Insane Federal Bill Would Strip Trans People of Their Civil Rights

"The Civil Rights Uniformity Act of 2017" was introduced in June. Advocates say it's highly unlikely to become law—but what precedent does writing transphobic bills set?

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Aug 3 2017, 5:47pm

Photo by Barcroft Media via Getty Images.

During Barack Obama's second presidential term, his administration made strides to extend civil rights protections to trans citizens in the US. In 2014, then-Attorney General Eric Holder announced that the Department of Justice (DOJ) would interpret anti-sex discrimination laws to include transgender people. Two years later, the US Department of Health and Human Services banned discrimination in health care on the basis of gender identity as part of the landmark Affordable Care Act.

But a new bill introduced in June seeks to dismantle those protections by prohibiting anti-discrimination laws from being applied to transgender, gender nonconforming and intersex people. H.R. 2796, dubbed the "Civil Rights Uniformity Act of 2017," would prevent federal civil rights laws to "treat gender identity or transgender status as a protected class" unless explicitly stated as such, as well as require that the words "woman" and "man" written in law be referred to a person's sex assigned at birth and not their gender identity.

Read more: Raising a Trans Child in Texas

"It's a nasty piece of work," says Harper Jean, director of policy at the National Center for Transgender Equality, which held its Transgender Lobby Day after the bill's introduction.

If the "Civil Rights Uniformity Act" were to pass, advocates say it would have disastrous consequences for the transgender, gender nonconforming, and intersex populations at the federal level. The bill would strip trans, gender nonconforming, and intersex people of rights in employment, education, housing, and public accommodations — areas in which they already face tremendous inequality and violence.

This would be especially true in states that don't have their own explicit anti-discrimination laws, Tobin says. "It would be a declaration of an open season for discrimination against transgender people," she told Broadly.

H.R. 2796, introduced by Republican Rep. Pete Olson of Texas, was referred to Subcommittee in the Constitution and Civil Justice on July 12. Olson's office has not yet returned Broadly's request for comment.

Advocates believe Olson's bill is unlikely to move through Congress. A version of the discriminatory "Civil Rights Uniformity Act" was introduced by Olson last year, but failed to move out of committee. Similar federal anti-LGBTQ legislation had also been filed during the 2015-2016 session, but were never close to coming up for a vote.

"It contributes to an environment of hate, where people feel more emboldened to attack our communities, and where our communities feel even more unsafe."

Still, while H.R. 2796 may not advance, its mere introduction has a significant impact on the country's transgender, gender nonconforming and intersex populations, says Kris Hayashi, executive director of the Transgender Law Center. "It contributes to an environment of hate, where people feel more emboldened to attack our communities, and where our communities feel even more unsafe," Hayashi tells Broadly.

Olson's proposed legislation is part of a larger swath of anti-transgender bills being introduced at the state level, advocates say. According to the National Conference of State Legislatures, six states — Missouri, Montana, North Carolina, South Carolina, Texas and Virginia — have considered similar legislation that would invalidate local anti-discrimination laws protecting LGBTQ people. Those states are also among the 16 that have introduced anti-transgender bathroom bills in the 2017 legislative session.

Overall, more than 100 anti-LGBTQ bills have been filed in 29 states so far this year, according to the Human Rights Watch.

"This bill is right along with what we have been seeing across the country," says Lourdes Ashley Hunter, executive director of the Trans Women of Color Collective. "This is not something that's new."

While advocates will keep a close eye on H.R. 2796, they say they're more focused on the immediate threats facing the transgender and gender nonconforming populations. Last week, the Texas Senate passed a version of a "bathroom bill," which would prevent people from using the bathroom that corresponds with their gender identity, in a special session. Senate Bill 3 is now heading to the House.

Advocates are also fighting President Donald Trump's continued efforts to rollback transgender rights. Most recently, Trump made statements over Twitter calling for a ban on transgender individuals from serving in the military. In February, the Trump administration rescinded an Obama-era guidance clarifying that transgender students are protected under Title IX. And although Attorney General Jeff Sessions announced that the Department of Justice will review the rise in murders of transgender people, there's still concern that his impending guidance on religious liberty protections will further weaken civil rights for transgender and gender nonconforming people.

"All of the discriminatory legislation and ballot initiatives are all part of the ongoing attacks on our rights and our communities that we've seen in history," Hayashi says.

Transgender people of color are especially harmed by state and federal efforts to deprive transgender and gender nonconforming people of their rights, advocates say. According to NCTE's own data, trans women who are Black, American Indian or Latinx are more likely to be unemployed, to live in poverty, to be denied health care, to live with mental illness, and to attacked or killed. About 16 transgender people have been killed in the US so far this year, according to the Human Rights Watch. Of that number, more than half were trans women of color. In 2016, about 22 transgender people were killed, which has been recorded as the deadliest year for the U.S. trans population; Black transgender women account for the majority of victims.

"When we talk about economics and how trans people are still actively discriminated in accessing employment and housing, that is something that is real. That is something that is impacting the socioeconomic growth and development of trans communities of color," Hunter says. "That is something that is inextricably linked to the physical violence every day in the streets of America."