A defining aspect of the Obama administration has been its quiet, incremental push to increase trans rights in the U.S. In 2014, Barack Obama signed an executive order prohibiting anti-LGBT discrimination from federal contractors; he also hired a transgender staffer; instituted a gender-neutral bathroom in the Eisenhower building; officially protected trans students under Title IX.
“The entire Obama administration wants you to know that we see you, we stand with you, and will will do everything we can to protect you going forward,” said Attorney General Loretta Lynch in May of this year, days before the administration issued a directive that school districts must allow transgender students to be allowed to use bathrooms consistent with their identity.
But the incoming, nightmarish Trump administration could easily change that. Not only has he vowed to appoint a conservative Supreme Court Justice, but he will also be likely heavily influenced by Vice President-Elect Mike Pence who backs conversion therapy as well as Indiana’s anti-LGBT Religious Freedom Restoration Act. In October, Pence vowed to reverse Obama’s executive order, saying, “Washington has no business intruding on the operation of our local schools.”
So, trans people have begun planning for the next administration by working to officially change their identifying documents, like passports and social security cards.
Jezebel spoke with Jillian Weiss, the executive director of the Transgender Legal Defense & Education Fund, about what laws could actually change and what trans people can do to be prepared. This interview has been lightly edited for clarity.
JEZEBEL: What sort of threat do you think the Trump administration poses to the trans community from a legal and social perspective?
JILLIAN WEISS: There have been a lot of protections put in place over the past eight years for transgender people which is something that we have not really experienced before on a nationwide level. There have been, of course, state and city laws. So the threat is that some of these—it sounds as if there is a vow to roll back some of these protections. Some of these can be fairly easily moved aside; some will take more work to remove. But if there is a determination that they want to really stem the efforts then potentially we could lose a tremendous amount of protection. So that’s the legal part and the social part is that a presidential administration is very powerful culturally as well as legally. And so if there is a sense giving to the populace at large that this group of people is not valued and don’t deserve protection then I think that social consequences will follow.
Off the top of your head that you could you talk a little bit more specifically about some of the legal protections that could be rolled back?
Sure, well, I mean the simplest example is the Obama administration’s executive orders preventing discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity in the public sector. So you know that is really just the stroke of a pen. There are more complex protections like regulations passed. The Federal Housing Administration has prohibited discrimination against transgender people and certain types of housing that’s involved with the federal government. The Occupational Safety and Health Administration has just put some pro-trans regulations in place and, of course, there is case law put out by the Equal Opportunity Commission on the rights of transgender people to be free from sex discrimination.
And then, of course, there are federal cases around the country in which judges have found that there’s protection from sex discrimination. Each of these has its own requirements in terms of rolling back, some will be more difficult than others. But those are some examples.
Through that hashtag, #TransLawHelp, people are discussing amending personal documents like their birth certificate or their social security card before January 20th. Is that something that you think is necessary to rush?
There are some that are state-level protections and so those are not necessarily in the same kind of immediate danger. But, for example, passports are federally-controlled, Social Security Administration is federally-controlled. Trying to see if another one pops to mind that’s federal. But those two certainly are very, very important. And I think those are executive orders put in place that permitted trans people to get appropriate documents. Birth certificates are state-controlled so you know those states that currently permit amending of birth certificates—and it’s not all by any means—I don’t see any immediate threat of those be repealed immediately, although that certainly could happen if laws were proposed to change that. But also, for example, military documents because there’s that whole change that’s going on with permitting trans people to serve openly, so what’s going to happen with that?
A big part of the hashtag is having lawyers offer their services pro-bono to help with these things. Are there any legal resources that you recommend?
Well of course I’m the executive director of the Transgender Legal Defense and Education Fund. We have a name change program that operates in several cities around the country. I know that the Transgender Law Center does work like that in California. Also in New York is the Sylvia Rivera Law Project which will actually do more comprehensive services in terms of passports and Social Security Administration.
There’s a bunch of them around the country, but also I think it’s very helpful for lawyers to offer pro-bono services because these services are very expensive and most transgender people being unduly pushed into the lower quadrant of the socio-economic level, a lot of people living under $10,000 a year income, simply cannot afford to get the help. And these things are actually somewhat complex, and when you sit down to do it, there’s actually a lot of forms to fill out and steps to take.
Is there anything that I didn’t ask you that you feel is important to include?
I think it’s important to include the fact that the advocacy community is going to need to work especially hard to protect transgender people. There’s many issues with what’s going to happen with marriage and things relating marriage and that of course is very, very important. But the trans community has much fewer resources than the general LGBT community and I think it’s imperative that a lot of thought is given to protecting trans people.
Update: This article has been amended to show that Twitter user @dtwps started the hashtag.