One Day On The Job, Sessions’ Justice Department Is Already Undoing Transgender Protections

"Attorney General Jeff Sessions has signaled his intent to undermine the equal dignity of transgender students."

One day after Sen. Jeff Sessions was confirmed as Attorney General, the Department of Justice backed away from Barack Obama’s order guaranteeing trans students the right to use bathrooms and lockers that match their gender identity.

WASHINGTON, DC - FEBRUARY 09:  Sen. Jeff Sessions is sworn in as the new U.S. Attorney General by U.S. Vice President Mike Pence in the Oval Office of the White House February 9, 2017 in Washington, DC. U.S. President Donald Trump also signed three executive orders immediately after the swearing in ceremony.  (Photo by Win McNamee/Getty Images)
Win McNamee/Getty Images

In May 2016, President Obama issued guidelines to the Departments of Education and Justice that schools receiving federal dollars should respect trans students’ rights. Three months later, though, District Court Judge Reed O’Connor stayed the order, insisting Obama had overreached by claiming Title IX protections against sex discrimination also covered gender identity.

The Justice Department initially requested to limit O’Connor’s ruling to the 12 states that filed an injunction against the guidelines. But, on Friday, the Trump administration withdrew that request and asked to cancel a February 17 hearing on the matter.

“After being on the job for less than 48 hours, Attorney General Jeff Sessions has signaled his intent to undermine the equal dignity of transgender students,” said HRC’s Chad Griffin, who added transgender students have a right “to the full protection of the United States Constitution and our federal nondiscrimination laws.”

WASHINGTON, USA - JANUARY 10:  Senator Jeff Sessions testifies in front of the Senate Judiciary Committee during their first hearing to examine whether or not they will confirm President-elect Donald Trumps nomination of Sessions to Attorney General at the U.S. Capitol in Washington, USA on January 10, 2017. (Photo by Samuel Corum/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images)
Anadolu Agency/Getty Images

During his confirmation hearing, Sessions insisted he would uphold “statutes protecting [LGBT people’s] safety.” But as a U.S. senator, he opposed the Violence Against Women Act and the Matthew Shepard Hate Crimes Act.

“I’m not sure women or people with different sexual orientations face that kind of discrimination,” he declared. “I just don’t see it.” Sessions said expanding hate-crime protections to LGBT Americans was “unwarranted [and] possibly unconstitutional.”


Sessions also voted against the repeal of Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell and for a constitutional amendment banning same-sex marriage.

“He will be expected to defend the equal rights of gay and lesbian and transgender Americans, but his record indicates that he won’t,” testified Sen. Corey Booker during Sessions’ hearing. “In fact, at numerous times in his career, he has demonstrated a hostility toward these convictions.”

WASHINGTON, DC - JANUARY 28: President Donald Trump signs three executive actions in the Oval Office on January 28, 2017 in Washington, DC. The actions outline a reorganization of the National Security Council, implement a five year lobbying ban on administration officials and a lifetime ban on administration officials lobbying for a foreign country and calls on military leaders to present a report to the president in 30 days that outlines a strategy for defeating ISIS.  (Photo by Pete Marovich - Pool/Getty Images)
ete Marovich - Pool/Getty Images

Last month, the White House stated Donald Trump would honor his predecessor’s order prohibiting federal contractors from discriminating against LGBT employees. But Friday’s move seems to undermine the administration’s declaration that Trump “continues to be respectful and supportive of LGBTQ rights.”

Next month, the Supreme Court will hear opening arguments in its first case addressing the transgender community, as Virginia teen Gavin Grimm fights for the right to use the facilities that align with his identity.

Dan Avery is a writer-editor who focuses on culture, breaking news and LGBT rights. His work has appeared in Newsweek, The New York Times, Time Out New York, The Advocate and elsewhere.
@ItsDanAvery