The US Justice Department says federal civil rights law doesn’t protect lesbians and gay men from workplace discrimination.
The DOJ took that action just hours after President Donald Trump fired off tweets banning transgender Americans from serving in the military.
Jennifer Levi, director of the Transgender Rights Project for GLAD Legal Advocates and Defenders in Boston, says thousands of people who proudly serve in the military are potentially harmed by Trump’s tweets.
At the same time, she calls the administration’s stand on the lack of federal workplace protections for gay workers unprincipled.
“I think that this administration is playing politics with people’s lives, which is unfortunate, so, you know, they are both terrible steps,” she states. “And I hope we’ll see the courts reversing any potential negative impacts.”
Trump tweeted that transgender troops could hamper military readiness.
But Marine Corps Gen. Joseph Dunford, chair of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, says that tweets from the commander-in-chief do not have the force of orders. He adds that until the US military receives an official order, it will continue to treat all of personnel with respect.
In the workplace protection case, a civil lawsuit involving a fired skydiving instructor who came out as gay, the Justice Department argues that Congress has not extended Title VII to include sexual orientation.
Greg Nevins, director of the Employment Fairness Project at Lambda Legal, says courts have long held that the law’s protections are not confined to narrow definitions of race, color, religion, sex and national origin.
“These things often have very different roots, very different social histories, but they’re all prohibited to the same extent,” he points out. “So, the fact that discrimination against one group is not rooted in believing them to be inferior doesn’t mean it’s not prohibited by Title VII.”
Levi says there is no telling where the first legal challenge to the transgender ban will be filed, but she says the doors of the GLAD office in Boston are wide open.
“Absolutely, we’re very interested to hear from active service members who are potentially impacted, and we’ll bring a lawsuit if the federal government treats our proud, transgender troops in a harsh and negative way,” she states.