United States Attorney General Jeff Sessions has directed the Justice Department to reverse a federal policy protecting transgender workers from discrimination.
According to a memo dated Wednesday that was obtained by BuzzFeed, Sessions has instructed U.S. attorneys and the heads of federal agencies to stop interpreting Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 as a protection on the basis of gender identity.
“Title VII’s prohibition on sex discrimination encompasses discrimination between men and women but does not encompass discrimination based on gender identity per se, including transgender status,” the memo reportedly reads in part.
Because the law, passed in 1964, does not mention protections for transgender Americans explicitly, Sessions reasoned in the memo, the government must not interpret its language to mean such.
“This is a conclusion of law, not policy... As a law enforcement agency, the Department of Justice must interpret Title VII as written by Congress,” he wrote.
Under the administration of Barack Obama, former Attorney General Eric Holder announced that his Justice Department would take its cues from the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission and a growing number of federal court cases, all of which found that sex discrimination does by nature include discrimination on the basis of gender identity.
But in his Wednesday memo, Sessions wrote that the law as written only applies to discrimination between “men and women,” and announced that the Justice Department would “take that position in all pending and future matters.”
“The Justice Department must and will continue to affirm the dignity of all people, including transgender individuals,” he added. “Nothing in this memorandum should be construed to condone mistreatment on the basis of gender identity, or to express a policy view on whether Congress should amend Title VII to provide different or additional protections.”
It’s not the first time the Trump administration has broken with its predecessor on how to interpret Title VII. In July, the Justice Department filed an amicus brief with the U.S. Court of Appeals urging the court to rule that the law did not protect against sexual orientation-based job discrimination as written.
Since his inauguration, President Donald Trump’s White House has been notably regressive in its policies pertaining to the transgender community, threatening to establish a ban on armed service in the military by transgender individuals and rescinding Obama-era guidelines around transgender bathroom access in public schools.
Transgender populations notoriously faces disproportionate amounts of discrimination in American, even among other LGBTQ groups. According to the most recent report by the National Coalition of Anti-Violence Programs, which tracks violence against LGBTQ and HIV-affected communities, the victims of hate violence and related homicides in 2017 “have overwhelmingly been transgender women and queer, bi, or gay cisgender men.”