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Trump is getting more anti-LGBT+ as he fights for reelection

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Donald Trump.

US President Donald Trump dramatically expanded his anti-LGBT+ policies in 2019 as he prepares for his reelection battle.

And his new discriminatory policies are harming the health and well-being of LGBT+ people in America and around the world.

Those are the main findings of a new report by The Fenway Institute – an organisation dedicated to LGBT+ and HIV-positive people’s health.

It points to LGBT+ losses in healthcare, housing, education and employment. And it says Trump appointed more anti-LGBT+ federal court judges.

Moreover, the report shows how individual policy decisions across government damage LGBT+ rights. These range from Trump appointing judges to departments of state changing discrimination rules. And many of these will have flown under the radar.

The right to discriminate with $500 billion in funding

In healthcare, the US Department of Health and Human Services attacked regulations protecting LGBT+ people from discrimination. It stripped away several protections and plans to get rid of more.

A 2018 survey found that 14% of LGBTQ people had experienced discrimination in health care in the past year. And that figure rises to 33% among trans people. Many delay accessing healthcare, as they fear discrimination.

The HSS awards grants of $500 billion a year. These cover community health centers, STI clinics, refugee resettlement, elder care, childcare, community meal programs, and adoption and fostering services.

But in November 2019 the HSS proposed that bodies it funds could start discriminating on the basis of sexuality, gender identity, gender and religion.

The new report says: ‘Under this proposed rule, LGBT people in need of medical care could be turned away from federally funded health centers and clinics.

‘After-school programs like Head Start could refuse to serve LGBT youth or youth with LGBT parents. Senior service centers could refuse to serve LGBT elders.’

Also in 2019, HSS said it would stop collecting sexuality and gender identity data around fostering and adoption. The Fenway Institute report argues this data is essential to protect LGBTQ youth in the fostering and adoption system.

Donald Trump's cabinet.
Donald Trump’s cabinet: Multiple individual departments undermined LGBT+ protections. The White House

Good news on HIV, but will Trump deliver?

There were some positives on HIV. Trump used the 2019 State of the Union to announce his plan to end the HIV epidemic by 2030.

His plan will target parts of the country hardest hit by HIV until 2025. The hope is to get HIV infection rates down by 75%. These efforts will then extend across the US to get the rates down by 90% by 2030.

To help, HSS plans to get at-risk individuals onto PrEP. The drug can massively reduce the risk of them getting HIV. It has partnered with the drug’s maker, Gilead, to get PrEP donated for 200,000 people a year.

Experts also welcomed a big spending increase of $291 million on HIV in 2020. But they noted much of the money has come from repurposing existing funds.

Meanwhile, the Fenway Institute report criticizes the plan for doing ‘little to address anti-LGBT discrimination and stigma’. These are major drivers for HIV.

Moreover, black gay and bi men, and trans women of color, are more at risk of contracting HIV. But they are also less likely to get health insurance and access HIV services. And the Fenway Institute worries new rights to discriminate on the basis of religion will undermine the good work.

Meanwhile, a federal judge had to block the US Air Force from discharging two HIV-positive airmen.

As they had an undetectable viral load, they can’t pass on the virus. So the report says this shows the Department of Defense’s attitude is ‘discriminatory and not reflective of modern science’.

Finally, in June 2019, Trump cut federal funding to HIV researchers using fetal tissue.

‘Biological sex only’ protection in employment

Meanwhile, in employment, the Trump Administration argued before the US Supreme Court that Title VII employment rights only extend to ‘biological sex’ not to gender identity.

That’s despite the fact that federal court and Equal Employment Opportunity Commission rulings have long said federal rules prohibit discrimination based on sexual orientation or gender identity.

Trump’s Department of Justice was responding to the case of Aimee Stephens, a trans woman. Her employer, a funeral home, fired her after she came out as trans.

But if the justices listen to the DoJ, it may affect two other cases coming up before the Supreme Court. In both these cases gay men allege they were fired from their jobs after coming out. 

Trans students suffering harassment

And the Department of Education continued to compound anti-transgender policies.

In 2019, Education Secretary Betsy DeVos refused to confirm that the DOE supports policies that prohibit LGBT+ discrimination.

DeVos even admitted her 2017 decision to roll back discrimination protections identity had impacted trans students. Because of that decision, trans students are now more likely to suffer harassment, depression and have worse educational outcomes.

Removing housing protections despite LGBT+ homelessness

At the same time, the Department of Housing and Urban Development also attacked trans protections.

Trans Americans are among the most likely people to end up homeless. About a third have experienced homelessness during their lifetime. And shelters already regularly turn them away.

But HUD proposed that shelters should use ‘an individual’s sex as reflected in official government documents’ to determine admission.

Using official documents rather than their true gender punishes trans people. And it’s particularly problematic as many shelters have gender-segregated bathrooms, locker rooms and bedrooms.

In addition, in September, HUD removed incentives to encourage housing providers to support LGBT+ people. 

The report says: ‘This combination could create a dangerous climate in which homeless LGBT individuals, especially homeless LGBT youth, struggle to find the support that they need.’

‘Religious freedom’ is excuse for discrimination

Throughout 2019, the Trump Administration tried to give religious people the right to discriminate because of their faith.

In particular, the Department of Health and Human Services published its ‘Conscience Rule’ in May.

This allows government employees and healthcare providers to deny service or treatment to LGBT people. All they have to do is claim that service or treatment would violate their religious beliefs or principles.

And it doesn’t just apply to doctors and nurses. Even receptionists can turn people away.

The report says: ‘This overly broad rule allows healthcare providers and staff … to refuse to serve LGBT patients based on religion, even in cases of emergency.’

The rule hasn’t come into action yet, as federal judges in New York, Washington state and California struck it down. However, it could still happen.

Meanwhile the Department of Labor Office of Federal Contract Compliance Programs proposed that federal contractors should also be able to discriminate against LGBT+ people on the basis of their beliefs.

The proposal could even allow for-profit organizations, who aren’t primarily religious. to use the opt-out.

If they do, they can refuse to employ someone for religious reasons. And it will make it easier for federal contractors and subcontractors to discriminate against LGBT+ workers.

Plus, when LGBT+ staff face discrimination, it will be harder for them to challenge it. Their employer will have the opportunity to use their faith as an excuse.

Anti-LGBT+ judges take power

One of the ongoing ways Trump has chipped away at LGBT+ protections is in appointing judges.

While the public focuses on Supreme Court appointments, lower court judges play a vital role in the US judicial system.

Over the past two years, nearly a third of federal judge nominees have expressed anti-LGBT+ sentiments or have histories of ruling against the interests of LGBT+ Americans.

Trump appointed 12 federal judges who started work in 2019. And half of them have worked to oppose or undermine same-sex marriage equality.

For example, Trump nominated Lawrence VanDyke to the United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit in October.

VanDyke will become the second appellate court judge to have worked at the Alliance Defending Freedom. The ADF is a hate group that wants trans people sterilized and gay sex to be illegal in the US and abroad.

Worse, the ADF links homosexuality to pedophilia. And VanDyke claims in his writing that LGBT+ people are deviant and dangerous.

Crack-down on asylum harms LGBT+ people

Unsurprisingly, Trump’s policies are devastating – and even killing – LGBT+ refugees and immigrants.

One trans woman died in June, just days after Immigration and Customs Enforcement released her from custody. The woman from El Salvador’s death reflects the case of a trans woman from Honduras who died nearly a year before.

In the case of the Honduran woman, ICE denied her medical care despite her asking for help. She died of complications from AIDS in their custody. And they destroyed video footage related to the case, despite an order not to.

In March 2019, trans and gay immigrants at a detention center in New Mexico filed a lawsuit against ICE. They alleged frequent verbal, physical, and sexual abuse.

Transgender detainees reported ICE denied them hormone treatment. And one gay detainee reported being sent to solitary confinement for reporting sexual abuse to ICE officials.

Meanwhile, the administration also changed the rules so asylum seekers can only have hearings in the US if another country has denied them asylum or they are victims of human trafficking.

Rights groups argued this creates unprecedented barriers for asylum seekers in the US. But the Supreme Court allowed the rule.

Trump now against the Equality Act he supported

The White House also took a stance against the new Equality Act. The US House of Representatives passed the act in June 2019. It would prohibit sexual orientation and gender identity discrimination under federal law.

But a White House official said the bill is ‘filled with poison pills’ to ‘undermine parental and conscience rights’.

This is despite the fact that Trump backed the idea of amending the Civil Rights Act to include sexual orientation in a 2000 interview.

Trans military ban

The greatest LGBT+ controversy of Trump’s first year in office was his decision to ban trans people serving in the US military.

The ban faced several court challenges but came into effect on 12 April 2019. As a result, around 13,600 trans individuals are not at risk of having the armed forces discharge them.

Fanfare over global LGBT+ rights but actions speak louder

Trump, King Salman of Saudi Arabia, and Egyptian president Abdel Fattah el-Sisi in 2017.
Trump, King Salman of Saudi Arabia, and Egyptian president Abdel Fattah el-Sisi in 2017. The White House

Much fanfare accompanied Trump’s announcement of a global campaign to end the criminalization of homosexuality. Gay sex is still a crime in 70 countries around the world.

Trump told the UN in September: ‘As we defend American values, we affirm the right of all people to live in dignity.

‘For this reason, my administration is working with other nations to stop criminalizing of homosexuality, and we stand in solidarity with LGBTQ people who live in countries that punish, jail, or execute individuals based on sexual orientation.’

But, the State Department later admitted there was no new initiative. In fact they were just continuing an Obama-era policy.

When it came to practical measures, the State Department did criticize Brunei for introducing stoning for gay sex. It also said it was ‘deeply disturbed’ by Chechnya’s round-up, putting LGBT+ people in concentration camps and killing at least two. 

But when Saudi Arabia, Qatar and Kenya acted against LGBT+ people, Trump was silent.

Indeed, he failed to support the US Ambassador to Zambia who criticized the Zambian government for sentencing a gay male couple to 15 years in prison. Rather than back him up, the State Department recalled him.

Moreover, the State Department changed its policy so embassies can no longer display the LGBT+ rainbow flag during Pride Month. And, for the first time in many years, it didn’t issue a statement on International Day Against Homophobia, Biphobia and Transphobia.

Some human rights are more equal than others

Meanwhile Secretary of State Mike Pompeo started a process of dividing human rights between what he calls ‘natural rights’ and ‘ad hoc rights’.

Human rights experts said this was an attempt to ‘dial back’ LGBT+ and women’s rights. They expect Pompeo’s supporters to particularly attack access to abortion and marriage equality.

Finally, the new religious ‘conscience rule’ is expected to undermine HIV efforts for gay, bi and trans people. Organisations can still win funding even if they refuse to help these and other groups – like sex workers – because of their faith.

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Author: Tris Reid-Smith