Transgender workers deserve advocacy, understanding

By Editorial Board

Attorney General Jeff Sessions’ Oct. 4 memo to the U.S. Department of Justice promotes a policy that will greatly challenge transgender people in courtrooms and hinder progress in stopping workplace discrimination. 

The memo announced that Title VII of the 1964 Civil Rights Act—which prohibits employers from discriminating on the basis of sex and other protected classes—does not apply to gender identity, and the law should not be interpreted as such. Sessions’ policy directly challenges former Attorney General Eric Holder’s December 2014 conclusion that Title VII does apply to gender identity, and Sessions’ decision puts the DOJ at odds with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, a federal department that investigates and fights workplace discrimination. The EEOC follows Holder’s interpretation of Title VII. 

“Nothing in this memorandum should be construed to condone mistreatment on the basis of gender identity,” Sessions wrote in the memo. 

Considering this statement comes during President Donald Trump’s fight against transgender people in the military, Sessions’ memo is another example of the virulent transphobia in which the Trump administration is complicit—and for the public, it is another call to action.

Among the 27,715 respondents in a December 2016 survey by the National Center for Transgender Equality, 16 percent of transgender workers surveyed lost at least one job because of their gender identity or the way they expressed their gender identity, and 30 percent reported being fired, denied a promotion or experiencing another form of mistreatment—such as harassment or assault—in the workplace because of their gender identity. 

Sessions’ position on Title VII will make fighting these injustices in court more difficult. Following the order, the DOJ will no longer side with transgender plaintiffs in workplace discrimination court cases based on civil rights’ violations. Instead, the department can tell the courts it is wrong to interpret Title VII as including gender identity as a protected class. 

If the DOJ will not stand with transgender workers discriminated against, companies and employees must work together to create workplace environments that do not tolerate mistreatment. In order to strive for this inclusiveness, the first step is education. Including information on gender identity and gender expression in employee training is a simple gesture that can increase awareness and ease transgender workers’ fears of being mistreated on the job. 

In North Carolina, businesses took a stand when House Bill 2, a trans-discriminatory law commonly known as the “bathroom bill,” passed March 23, 2016, by pulling operations from the state and weakening its economy. Before North Carolina repealed the bill March 30, this year the state was expected to lose $3.76 billion over 12 years, according to an analysis by the Associated Press. Now businesses can continue the fight against a government’s wrongdoings by creating initiatives for education and protection for transgender workers in workplaces. Businesses that do so deserve your support. 

The Trump administration has seemingly made it its mission to threaten and strip away the small progress marginalized groups have made. Cisgender people—those whose gender aligns with the one assigned to them at birth—have a duty to give transgender people the platform they need to have their voices heard, and they have a duty to advocate for transgender rights when the federal government does not.