Una Mullally: One person’s distraction tactic is another’s life-altering moment
Trumps ban on transgender people in the military has real consequences for LGBT people
Protesters gather in front of the White House after President Trump announced transgender people may not serve ‘in any capacity’ in the US military. Photograph: AFP Photo
When Donald Trump announced a ban on transgender people serving in the US military, the trending term was “distraction tactic.” It is presumably an attempt to divert attention away from the Russian soap-opera-slash-surrealist-spy-novel that America finds itself living in. But that doesn’t make it any less real. It is not a shot across the bow, it is a real target with a real impact.
One person’s distraction tactic is another’s life-altering (or ending) moment. It is easy to label something a distraction tactic when it doesn’t affect you. For the trans people serving in the military (or aspiring to), this is not a distraction tactic, this is their lives.
Interestingly, this distraction tactic, unlike your traditional “look over there!” distraction tactic - such as the mother of all bombs, or a botched ground raid in Yemen - does not occur in a vacuum. Is a distraction tactic still a distraction tactic if it is part of an ideological pursuit to strip lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) people of their rights? Is it really a distraction tactic when banning people who exist from an organisation they exist in, looks to be part of an ongoing effort seeking to make trans people invisible altogether?
The drive to make LGBT people invisible has a terrifying history and present. It’s the drive that in many places transforms discrimination into a goal not just of subservience and oppression, but eradication. It is a drive that manifests in anti-gay purges of torture and murder in Chechnya. It is a drive that sees gay relationships criminalised in 72 countries. It is a drive that saw 22 transgender people killed in the United States last year. It is a drive that is predicted to make 2017 the worst year on record for violence against transgender people in the US.
Trans people are vulnerable targets, but the LGBT community has been targeted since Trump took office. In the aftermath of Trump’s inauguration in January, all content related to LGBT rights was removed from the whitehouse.gov website. In February the Department of Justice and the Department of Education rescinded instructions that schools must allow students access to bathrooms that correspond with their gender identity or expression. Under Obama, transgender students were given such protections under Title IX (which prohibits sex discrimination in education), saying that a school that receives federal funds must “treat transgender students consistent with their gender identity.” Gone.
Under Trump, the Justice Department is arguing that laws against gender bias don’t apply to LGBT people in the workplace. In March, Trump repealed an executive order, diluting protections for LGBT workers. Previously, Obama signed two executive orders: one which forbid federal government from contracting companies that discriminated against LGBT people, and another that requires companies doing business with federal government to prove they are compliant with executive orders. Trump repealed the second executive order meaning companies working with federal government don’t have to prove they don’t discriminate against LGBT employees. Gone. While there are protections for LGBT people in the workplace, there is no all encompassing federal law that protects LGBT workers, as there is with Title VII, the 1964 law that prohibits discrimination against workers based on religion, race, sex, and national origin. Some states and cities have their own laws, but according to the American Civil Liberties Union, LGBT workers can be fired from their jobs in 28 states.
In April, the Justice Department dropped its lawsuit against North Carolina’s so-called “bathroom bill”. House Bill 2 contained a provision that said in public buildings, transgender people have to use the bathrooms, changing rooms and showers that correspond to the gender on their birth certificate. Following huge controversy and boycotts, North Carolina brought in House Bill 142, widely misreported as a repeal of HB2, when it in fact stated that government entities were no longer able to enact rules on public bathrooms etc. (including anti-discrimination ordinances). The Justice Department had taken a lawsuit against North Carolina on the back of HB2, and under Trump’s administration they’ve dropped it. Gone.
In June, Trump (like George W. Bush, and unlike Clinton and Obama) did not acknowledge LGBT Pride Month. In July, he bans trans people from serving in the military. What will August bring? And if Trump’s administration wanted to protect LGBT people, why is it dismantling such protections and rights? Such actions may very well be “distraction tactics”, but those distraction tactics will keep coming for real people in Bills and in bombs.