Donald Trump is angry with Jeff Sessions for recusing himself in the Russia collusion investigation. But that hasn’t stopped Trump from giving Sessions carte blanche to enforce his brutal hard-right agenda ― one reason why, in fact, conservatives have defended Sessions against Trump’s attacks ― and that includes what are clearly his plans to dismantle LGBTQ rights.
The reason Sessions had to recuse himself from the Russia investigation, of course, is because it became known that he had several meetings with Russian officials during the election, while serving in the Trump campaign, though he claimed during his confirmation hearings that he hadn’t ever met with such officials.
But now we know that’s not the only thing Sessions lied about.
In his opening statements back in January, Sessions said, ”I understand the demands for justice and fairness made by our LGBT community.” He vowed to “ensure ... protecting their rights and their safety,” which he said would be “fully enforced.”
But last week Sessions’ Justice Department used precious time and federal expense to tell a federal appeals court, via a 36-page brief, that employers should legally have the right to fire gay, lesbian and bisexual people based on their sexual orientation. If employers deem homosexuality as immoral, Sessions believes they should be able to tell gay, lesbian or bisexual employees to pack their things and go if they are found out, destroying lives, affecting their families and livelihoods. It’s abhorrent ― and the complete opposite of what the civil rights office at the Department of Justice should be doing.
The DOJ isn’t party to this case. The Second Circuit Court of Appeals didn’t invite it to file a brief. Sessions clearly decided to take it upon himself to influence the court, in a case in which a now deceased skydiver claimed he was fired from his job because he was gay (his survivors have continued with the case). According to the Center for American Progress, 10 percent of gay, lesbian and bisexual people report having been fired because of their sexual orientation while a staggering 47 percent of transgender people have reported being fired based on their gender identity.
The ACLU’s Ria Tabacco Mar, in a New York Times op-ed, explained the significance of the case that Sessions is attempting to sabotage using the influence of the DOJ:
This latest blow to civil rights by the Trump administration comes at a moment of tremendous promise: The Second Circuit appears poised to expand protections for lesbian and gay workers under Title VII of the 1964 Civil Rights Act, the federal law that bars on-the-job discrimination on the basis of sex, race, color, national origin and religion.
Earlier this year, it agreed to reconsider a pair of its decisions from the 2000s that wrongly concluded that discriminating against people based on their sexual orientation isn’t covered by the statute’s ban on sex discrimination.
Coming on the heels of a landmark decision in April from the federal appeals court in Chicago that overruled similar precedent, the news that the Second Circuit would revisit its old conclusions was applauded by the L.G.B.T. community as heralding the end of another barrier to equality.
Trump has given all of his anti-LGBTQ lieutenants ― from Betsy DeVos and Tom Price to Ben Carson and Mike Pence ― free rein to assault LGBTQ rights and, just as profoundly, he has listened to their counsel on the issue. That’s why we’ve seen protections for transgender and gay students threatened, elimination of data collection on LGBTQ seniors and a devastating attack, via Twitter, on transgender people serving in the military.
For Sessions, if he remains at the Justice Department (there have been unconfirmed reports that Trump is thinking of moving him to head up Homeland Security), it means a sustained assault at a time when LGBTQ people are subject to hate crimes attacks more than any other minority group, with transgender women of color disproportionately affected in the worst way.
During his confirmation hearings, senators pointed out how Sessions had vehemently opposed adding gay and transgender people to existing hate crimes laws, which the justice department is charged with enforcing ever since the bill he opposed became law in 2009.
“Today, I’m not sure women or people with different sexual orientations face that kind of discrimination,” Sessions said at the time. “I just don’t see it.”
In his questioning, Sen. Leahy of Vermont brought Sessions back to his opposition to queer people being protected under hate crimes statutes, and pointed to current statistics:
Last year the FBI said that LGBT individuals were more likely to be targeted for hate crimes than any other minority group in the country. We can study this forever but that’s a pretty strong fact. And in 2010 you stated that expanding hate crimes protections to LGBT individuals was unwarranted, possibly unconstitutional. You said the bill has been said to cheapen the civil rights movement. Especially considering what the FBI is found, do you still feel that way?′
Sessions responded: “Mr. Chairman the law has been passed, the Congress has spoken, you can be sure I will enforce it.”
And in June at a summit at the Justice Department, Sessions focused in on murders of transgender people.
“We have and will continue to enforce hate crime laws aggressively and appropriately where transgendered individuals are victims,” Sessions said. “Last month, Joshua Brandon Vallum was sentenced to 49 years in prison for assaulting and murdering Mercedes Williamson. This is the first case prosecuted under the Hate Crimes Prevention Act involving the murder of a transgender person.”
But the historic case prosecuted under the Matthew Shepard and James Byrd, Jr. Hate Crimes Prevention Act, signed by President Obama, was prosecuted entirely by the Obama Justice Department in 2016. Last December, Vallum finally pleaded guilty to the horrific stabbing murder of 17-year-old Williamson in Alabama in 2015. (It was the sentencing, by a federal judge, that occurred earlier this year.) In a statement, Attorney General Loretta Lynch noted at the time that “the landmark guilty plea” reaffirms that “no one should have to live in fear because of who they are,” and “signals the Justice Department’s determination to combat hate crimes based on gender identity.”
None of this happened because of Jeff Sessions, though he apparently wants to take credit for it in what is another attempt at massaging the facts. After his lie about meeting with Russian officials, and the lie during his confirmation hearing exposed last week after his assault on gay workers, we can expect his vow to protect LGBTQ people against hate crimes will be revealed as yet another lie.
Follow Michelangelo Signorile on Twitter: www.twitter.com/msignorile