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Is banning trans troops a legal tactic to reverse civil rights?

U.S. Supreme Court cases involving the discrimination of trans people, either by banning them from the military or firing them because of their sex, have much more at stake than is often perceived. Chase Strangio, an attorney at ACLU’s LGBT and HIV project, spoke to NewsHour Weekend’s Ivette Feliciano, explaining that they can lead to stripping people of fundamental civil rights.

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  • Hari Sreenivasan:

    For more perspective on the shifting legal landscape for transgender rights, Ivette Feliciano sat down with Chase Strangio, an attorney at the ACLU's LGBT and HIV project.

  • Ivette Feliciano:

    Chase Strangio, thanks so much for joining us.

  • Chase Strangio:

    Thanks so much for having me.

  • Ivette Feliciano:

    So we know that the Trump administration is attempting to fast track trans military ban and there was also the Health and Human Services memo that surfaced late last year stating that the Trump administration is attempting to redefine gender. So is there a common thread in these recent moves by the Trump administration?

  • Chase Strangio:

    The most recent things that we're seeing from the Trump administration really are the culmination of what we've seen from the administration since January of 2017 when President Trump came into office. Now, at moving into 2019, what we're seeing is an escalation trying to get the Supreme Court to rule in ways that will have long lasting, really devastating effects for the trans community both solidifying the constitutionality of the trans military ban, which is one thing that he wants and his administration has been pushing. And then also, to push the courts to rule that trans people are not covered under existing federal civil rights laws.

  • Ivette Feliciano:

    Looking at the sort of big picture in terms of federal protections for trans people, what has the Trump administration said it might do versus what's actually been set in motion? Have any protections been taken away so far?

  • Chase Strangio:

    So I think what's really important for people to understand is that for many years decades in fact the federal courts have interpreted existing federal civil rights laws that prohibit discrimination on the basis of sex to include trans people. So this is not a new phenomenon. What the Trump administration has made clear from the start is that they want to undo and reverse those protections. But they can't do that single handedly. So what we're seeing from the administration is far reaching attempts to chip away at the legal protections that do exist and to urge the Supreme Court to roll back the protections that have been established in the lower courts over the past many years.

  • Ivette Feliciano:

    You're working on the case of Aimee Stephens, a trans woman who was fired from her job at a funeral home in Michigan. Can you briefly describe her situation and how it connects to the questions that were raised by that HHS memo?

  • Chase Strangio:

    Yes. Aimee Stephens case is sort of sadly a typical one. She was a model employee at a funeral home in Michigan and she was living as male and working as a man. But she knew that she was trans, she knew inside that she was a woman. And after many years of sort of model employment she informed her employer that the only way she could live in her authentic self was to come to work as a woman, to transition. And as soon as she informed her employer about her being trans, she was fired. And so the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission the EEOC actually initially brought the lawsuit on her behalf. She won in the lower court. Basically the court said there's no question that when you discriminate against someone because they are trans that is discrimination on the basis of sex that's a violation of Title VII federal civil rights law. The employer has now sought review from the United States Supreme Court and the court is being asked by the Trump administration and by the funeral home to interpret the law in such a way that trans people are excluded from coverage. Basically saying undo the protections that trans people have and let employers fire people and otherwise discriminate against people just because of who they are.

  • Ivette Feliciano:

    And you've written extensively about how the media's coverage of trans issues sometimes further stigmatizes trans people and even perpetuates misconceptions.Can you say a little bit more about that?

  • Chase Strangio:

    As visibility has increased, we've ended up watching this discourse emerge that really just ask questions like are trans people real? So Trans people deserve health care? And that's sort of foundational premise of those inquiries is itself really dehumanizing because of course we're real. That shouldn't be a question. It shouldn't be a question whether we deserve health care, of course we deserve health care. And so I think what we really have a responsibility to do is really shift the focus of the inquiry and help people understand that there's people's core humanity and lives are on the line and that this isn't about having a debate over our existence. This is about recognizing our core humanity and ensuring that we are afforded the same access to the legal protections that everyone else has.

  • Ivette Feliciano:

    Chase Strangio. Thanks so much for joining us.

  • Chase Strangio:

    Thanks for having me.

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