Trump ‘likes Taylor Swift 25% less’ after political post

Taylor Swift’s endorsement of two Democrats for the upcoming US mid-term elections has sparked a huge response – including from President Donald Trump.

Mr Trump has told reporters he likes “Taylor’s music about 25% less now”.

The singer-songwriter, 28, had previously deliberately steered clear of politics, but said events in “the past two years” had changed her mind.

Her latest comments were praised by many – but also sparked a fierce backlash from Republican supporters.

Swift broke her silence on politics on Sunday, publicly endorsing two Democrats in Tennessee, her home state, in a post on Instagram, where she has 112m followers.

“In the past I’ve been reluctant to publicly voice my political opinions, but due to several events in my life and in the world in the past two years, I feel very differently about that now,” she wrote.

A Buzzfeed News report quotes Vote.org’s Kamari Guthrie, who says the site has seen a “registrations spike specifically since [her] post” in Tennessee, and also a bump in voter registration nationwide.

Swift particularly criticised Republican Senate nominee Marsha Blackburn for her voting record on gender equality.

“Her voting record in Congress appals and terrifies me,” she wrote, citing the politician’s votes against equal pay and domestic violence legislation.

Speaking on Monday, Mr Trump said Ms Blackburn was “doing a very good job” in Swift’s home state.

“She’s a tremendous woman,” he said. “I’m sure Taylor Swift doesn’t know anything about her.”

In previous tweets posted in 2012, the US President had described Swift as “fantastic” and “terrific”, and had thanked her for taking a picture with him.

Swift’s post has been “liked” more than 1.6m times since she shared it on Sunday, including by model Chrissy Teigen, singer Katy Perry and actress Reese Witherspoon.

However, she has attracted criticism from conservative commentators and Republicans.

“What I used to love about Taylor Swift is she stayed away from politics,” Charlie Kirk, founder of the conservative student organisation Turning Point, told Fox News on Monday.

Meanwhile, the National Republican Senatorial Committee criticised her “attitude”, and said Swift had “[come] down from her ivory tower to tell hardworking Tennesseans” how to vote.

Swift did not publicly back any candidate in the 2016 election when other stars like Beyonce and Lady Gaga hit the campaign trail on behalf of Hillary Clinton.

In 2012, Swift told Time magazine she didn’t talk about politics “because it might influence other people”.

“I don’t think that I know enough yet in life to be telling people who to vote for,” she said at the time.

[BBC News]

Trump administration halts visas for same-sex partners of diplomats, UN employees

President Donald Trump’s administration began denying visas to the unmarried, same-sex partners of foreign diplomats and officials and employees of the United Nations this week — making marriage a requirement to be eligible for a visa.

The policy was made effective Monday.

It comes despite the fact that the majority of countries do not recognize same-sex marriage and many same-sex couples face prosecution in their own countries.

The shift was detailed in a memo circulated at the United Nations’ headquarters in New York last month but unveiled in July, according to the State Department.

The policy shift gives the same-sex partners of foreign diplomats and U.N. workers until the end of the year to get married or leave the country.

The State Department said in a briefing Tuesday that the policy will affect about 105 families in the USA, 55 of which have links to various international organizations. It was not clear how many foreign diplomats and U.N. employees with pending U.S. posts will be affected by the policy change.

Twelve percent of the 193 U.N. member states represented in New York allow same-sex marriage, according to Samantha Power, a former U.S. ambassador to the United Nations who served under President Barack Obama.

The Trump administration said the new policy is more consistent with the Supreme Court ruling in 2015 that legalized same-sex marriage. The heterosexual partners of foreign diplomats and U.N. employees are also not eligible for U.S. visas.

Critics of the move argued the policy would create hardship for gay couples from countries that ban same-sex marriage or offer only civil unions. Those who marry in the USA to secure their visa status could face criminal proceedings once they return to their home nations.

“Those not yet in the country will need to show they’re married to secure a visa, potentially forcing those living in countries without marriage equality to choose between a posting at UN headquarters or family separation,” Akshaya Kumar, deputy U.N. director at Human Rights Watch, wrote in a blog post.

UN Globe, which advocates for non-discrimination of LGBTI staff at the United Nations and in its peacekeeping operations, said it was an “unfortunate change in rules, since same-sex couples, unlike opposite-sex couples, have limited choices when it comes to marriage.”

Power, the former ambassador, described the policy in a tweet as “needlessly cruel and bigoted.” The State Department said the rule change would promote equal treatment. It said it recognized that not all countries permit same-sex marriage and it was prepared to work with individual cases to find a solution for those not able to marry.

[USA Today]

Trump expands federal contractors’ ability to cite religious freedom in discrimination cases

The Trump administration issued a directive earlier this month that critics argue will allow federal contractors to assert their right to a religious exemption from LGBT discrimination charges.

The Department of Labor directive, issued on Aug. 10, expands the circumstances under which federal contractors can claim they have a religious exemption when battling discrimination charges.

The directive addresses an executive order enacted in 1965 that blocks businesses that work with the federal government from discriminating against people on the basis of sex, gender identity, race, sexual orientation and other factors.

The new notice cites recent Supreme Court decisions, including a ruling in favor of a baker who refused to bake a cake for a same-sex couple and the 2014 Burwell v Hobby Lobby decision that certain corporations can be exempt from regulations over religious objections.

It also cites recent executive orders by President Trump, including his order earlier this year directing federal agencies to respect and protect religious liberty and political speech.

Critics told BuzzFeed News that the new directive would contradict a promise Trump made when he took office last year to not to touch an executive order issued by former President Obama that banned federal contractors from engaging in LGBT discrimination.

Department of Labor and White House officials told the news outlet that the Obama-era executive order remains in place, but declined to answer questions on when the religious exemption directive could be utilized by contractors.

“The purpose of Directive 2018-03 is to ensure [the Office of Federal Contract Compliance Programs] guidance on the religious exemption is consistent with federal law related to religious freedom and religious accommodation, including recent U.S. Supreme Court precedents and Executive Orders, which OFCCP is obligated to follow,” a Labor Department official told BuzzFeed News.

The official noted that the executive order enacted in 1965 allows “religious organizations to make employment decisions on the basis of religion.”

The new directive also states that it “supersedes” a Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ) memo on the illegality of anti-LGBT discrimination.

“The previous FAQ did not reflect recent Supreme Court decisions regarding religious freedoms,” the Department of Labor official told BuzzFeed News.

“President Trump and his Administration are working diligently to improve the lives of all Americans, including faith-based and LGBT communities,” White House deputy press secretary Lindsay Walters told BuzzFeed News. “We will continue to ensure anti-discrimination protections are in place for all Americans.”

Advocates opposing the new directive told the news site that the policy opens the door for contractors to cite religious exemptions when discriminating against LGBT employees.

“This Administration apparently recognizes — correctly, in our view — that rescinding [Obama’s 2014] executive order outright would cause a huge public outcry,” Shannon McGowan, a former lawyer in the Department of Justice’s Civil Rights Division and the current head of Lambda Legal, told BuzzFeed News. “So instead, this Administration is trying to accomplish the same end through different means.”

McGowan noted that a fifth of the federal workforce is employed through federal contractors, telling the news site that the “damage that could be done here cannot be overstated.”

[The Hill]

Trump nominates homophobic former Family Research Council chief to board of ‘religious freedom’ crusaders

It was announced Tuesday that President Donald Trump nominated Gary Bauer to be the latest member of the Commission on International Religious Freedom.

Bauer once led the Family Research Council, the anti-LGBT organization that advocates that homosexuals are harmful to society. The group has even been labeled a hate group by the Southern Poverty Law Center.

Before that, Bauer was known for his opposition to having an LGBT advisor to former President Ronald Reagan’s Commission on the HIV/AIDS Epidemic in the 1980s.

“Millions of Americans try to raise their children to believe that homosexuality is immoral,” he wrote in a 1987 memo. “In many states homosexual practices are illegal, including sodomy. For you to appoint a known homosexual to a Presidential Commission will give homosexuality a stamp of acceptability. It will drive a wedge between us and many of our socially conservative supporters.”

Candidate Donald Trump boasted of his support for LGBT Americans during the 2016 campaign.

“Thank you to the LGBT community! I will fight for you while Hillary brings in more people that will threaten your freedoms and beliefs,” Trump even wrote in a June, 2016 tweet.

[Raw Story]

In Closed-Door UN Meetings, Trump Administration Officials Pushed Abstinence For International Women’s Health Programs

In closed-door meetings at the United Nations in March, Trump administration officials pushed socially conservative views on women’s rights issues — including abstinence-based policies over information about contraception — that were further to the right than those expressed by most other countries present, including Russia and the representative for the Arab states, UN officials who attended the meetings told BuzzFeed News.

The Trump officials’ approach at the UN meeting makes it clear that the administration intends to extend its views on abortion, contraception, and sexual education beyond US borders to an extent that is unusual even for Republican administrations.

The comments came during the annual UN Commission on the Status of Women, a two-week session described by a spokesperson for the US Mission to the United Nations as the UN’s “most important meeting on women’s empowerment.” The main event is a closed-door negotiation on language to include in an annual UN document that sets global standards and outlines potential policies pertaining to gender equality efforts in all member countries.

Early in this series of meetings, Bethany Kozma — a senior adviser for gender equality and women’s empowerment at the US Agency for International Development (USAID) and anti-transgender activistemphasized that the US was a “pro-life nation,” sparking a strong reaction from delegates in the room, two officials in the room confirmed to BuzzFeed News.

“When she said that there was sort of a record scratch and silence,” one UN official who participated in the negotiations but asked not to be named so as to maintain a working relationship with the other member states present told BuzzFeed News. “Everyone was like, ‘are you kidding me?’”

Shannon Kowalski, the director of the International Women’s Health Coalition, said that the Trump administration’s stances on women’s health presented in the meeting were “further to the right” than they were at last year’s commission, or even under George W. Bush’s administration. While the Bush administration implemented anti-abortion policies abroad, the scope was limited to family planning programs. Trump’s policies already expand beyond those limits.

“They’re far more extreme than the US was under the Bush administration,” Kowalski told BuzzFeed News shortly after the session wrapped up. “We saw placement of ideologues within key roles who took similar positions back then, but they limited what they applied their views to.”

Throughout the two-week session, Trump administration officials discussed shifting international policy on women toward abstinence-oriented education and teaching women sexual “refusal skills.” Those views — as well as the US’s push for more conservative policies on immigration, trade and environmental regulation — ended up uniting most of the 45 CSW member states against the US on family planning issues, six sources who attended or were familiar with meetings told BuzzFeed News.

While negotiations at the UN are often political, two officials familiar with the negotiations said that they had never seen nearly all of the other membership states — many of whom have wildly different stances and priorities on family planning issues — come together against the US. The members include several countries where abortion is illegal and punishable by fines or jail time.

The Trump administration has not been shy about its stance on abortion. On his third day in office, President Donald Trump instated an expanded version of the Mexico City Policy, a rule that prevents the US from funding organizations that provide or discuss abortions with the populations they serve. While most Republican presidents have used that policy, Trump’s version applies to all US health funding abroad — not just family planning funds that prior Republican administrations regulated. This includes organizations devoted to curbing HIV/AIDS, which the Bush administration left alone, Kowalski said.

[Buzzfeed]

Trump administration dismantles LGBT-friendly policies

The nation’s health department is taking steps to dismantle LGBT health initiatives, as political appointees have halted or rolled back regulations intended to protect LGBT workers and patients, removed LGBT-friendly language from documents and reassigned the senior adviser dedicated to LGBT health.

The sharp reversal from Obama-era policies carries implications for a population that’s been historically vulnerable to discrimination in health care settings, say LGBT health advocates. A Health Affairs study last year found that many LGBT individuals have less access to care than heterosexuals; in a Harvard-Robert Wood Johnson-NPR survey one in six LGBT individuals reported experiencing discrimination from doctors or at a clinic.

The Trump administration soon after taking office also moved to change the agency’s LGBT-related health data collection, a window into health status and discrimination. Last month it established a new religious liberty division to defend health workers who have religious objections to treating LGBT patients.

The changes at the Department of Health and Human Services represent “rapid destruction of so much of the progress on LGBT health,” said Kellan Baker, a researcher at the Johns Hopkins School of Public Health who worked with HHS on LGBT issues for nearly a decade. “It’s only a matter of time before all the gains made under the Obama administration are reversed under the Trump administration, for purposes that have nothing to do with public health and have everything to do with politics.”

The policy reversals also come after President Donald Trump repeatedly pledged during his campaign that he would support LGBT causes. “Thank you to the LGBT community!” Trump tweeted in June 2016. “I will fight for you while Hillary brings in more people that will threaten your freedoms and beliefs.”

The Trump administration defended its approach to LGBT health as part of its broader health care strategy.

“The policies of the Trump administration are intended to improve the lives of all Americans, including the LGBTQ community,” White House principal deputy press secretary Raj Shah said in a statement. “Through actions aimed at making health care more affordable, rolling back burdensome regulations, and combating the opioid crisis, the administration is working to ensure a healthier America.”

The new leader of HHS — Alex Azar, who was sworn in as secretary last month — is thought to be more pragmatic than his predecessor Tom Price. Azar previously led U.S. operations for Eli Lilly, a pharmaceutical company that has been hailed by the Human Rights Campaign, among others, for its pro-LGBT policies. Lilly opposed Indiana’s religious liberty law, advanced by then-Gov. Mike Pence, that LGBT groups said was discriminatory.

However, staff inside the health department have raised concerns about several other Trump appointees now in senior roles who had a history of anti-LGBT comments before joining the agency, Among them is Roger Severino, a former Heritage Foundation official who has said that the Supreme Court’s 2015 decision on same-sex marriage was “wrong” and repeatedly warned of its consequences.

“[S]ame-sex marriage was merely the start, not end, of the left’s LGBT agenda,” Severino wrote in May 2016, about 10 months before he was tapped by Trump to be the health department’s top civil rights official. “The radical left is using government power to coerce everyone, including children, into pledging allegiance to a radical new gender ideology over and above their right to privacy, safety, and religious freedom.”

Asked in an interview this month if he stood by those comments, Severino pointed out that since joining the health department he had reached out to LGBT advocates. He also said his responsibility as civil rights chief is to uphold constitutional protections for all Americans.

“Statements I’ve made in the past are not binding on what I do in my role as a public servant,” Severino said. “What I’m guided by, and what I’m required to follow, is the law… I’m dedicated to treating everybody fairly and in accordance with the law.”

HHS officials also pointed to a listening session that Severino convened in April 2017 with more than a dozen LGBT advocates as well as several follow-up conversations with medical experts. “The outreach has been significant,” an agency spokesperson said.

But nearly all of those LGBT advocates said they’ve essentially been ignored since sitting down with Severino nearly a year ago.

“There’s been no communication since then through all the channels that he and his staff know how to reach us,” said Mara Youdelman of the National Health Law Program, who attended last year’s listening session and submitted subsequent requests for information that haven’t been returned. “It was a one-shot deal — and all of their actions speak much louder than words and one listening session.”

New direction under Trump

Though Barack Obama as a candidate for president opposed same-sex marriage, his administration immediately took steps to advance LGBT health issues, like loosening the rules on hospital visitation rights after some same-sex couples had been barred from seeing each other.

“[A]ll across America, patients are denied the kindnesses and caring of a loved one at their sides… [and] uniquely affected are gay and lesbian Americans,” Obama wrote in a 2010 memorandum, instructing HHS to expand visitation rights, a policy that still stands.

The Obama administration in 2016 also finalized a regulation, Section 1557 of the Affordable Care Act, that banned discrimination in health care based on sexual orientation and extended those protections to transgender individuals for the first time.

While some conservative groups said that the Obama administration moved too quickly on LGBT health priorities, its leaders argue their efforts were necessary, even overdue. The purpose of the agency is to serve all Americans, not just straight people. Our job was helping everyone,” said Kathy Greenlee, who was appointed as an assistant HHS secretary in 2009 and is openly lesbian. “There was pent-up support for these issues.”

But upon taking office last year, the Trump administration swiftly froze a series of LGBT-friendly rules, including proposed new regulations to further ban discrimination in Medicare and Medicaid. A regulation that would have allowed transgender HHS staff more protections when using the department’s bathrooms and other facilities also was ignored.

“It was signed and technically finished on Jan. 19, 2017, but not posted online,” said one staffer. “And the new administration considered it unpublished and pulled it back.”

The Trump administration also reinterpreted the ACA’s Section 1557 anti-discrimination mandate, with the White House declining to fight a court battle to enforce it and signaling that it would roll back the rule. The health agency’s new Conscience and Religious Freedom Division, which POLITICO first reported last month, is expected to offer greater protections for health care workers who do not wish to treat LGBT patients.

Meanwhile, the agency’s senior adviser for LGBT health — a lawyer named Elliot Kennedy — was reassigned from the HHS secretary’s office to an HHS office in Rockville, Md., to work on disease prevention. Kennedy’s previous portfolio, including leading a committee to review and advance LGBT policy issues across HHS, also has lost influence, after openly LGBT leaders left the agency and current LGBT staffers say they’ve been dissuaded from attending. The committee’s annual report has not been publicly posted since 2016.

“Elliot Kennedy currently serves in the Office of Disease Prevention and Health Promotion as liaison for Healthy People 2020’s LGBT Health Topic and Objectives,” an HHS spokesperson said, in response to questions about the reassignment. “He continues to serve on the HHS LGBT Policy Coordinating Committee.”

Another quiet battle has been over a pair of HHS surveys, with the Trump administration moving to strike questions about sexual orientation that had been added by the Obama administration in order to understand health disparities and LGBT specific health issues. The two surveys are used to shape policy for older and disabled Americans, respectively. The Trump administration subsequently reinstated some of the questions after an outcry.

“A lot of people think data are really boring. But data are fundamental, especially to public health,” said Baker, the Johns Hopkins researcher. “The only way to have the evidence you need to prioritize and spend wisely to address disparities is to have data about those disparities.”

A listening session followed by silence

The Trump administration says that it’s worked hard to engage LGBT health advocates, pointing to the listening session convened by Severino in April 2017 and attended by 17 representatives from groups that specifically deal with LGBT health.

“We’ve done a lot of outreach to the LGBT community to hear people’s concerns to be open, to listen and to learn,” Severino said. “And we will continue to do that because it’s important. I see my role as serving everybody.”

But all of the LGBT advocacy organizations represented at the April 2017 listening session said that they had concerns about HHS’ approach to LGBT health. Nearly every attendee said they hadn’t had meaningful interactions with Severino or the civil rights division in 10 months and they were underwhelmed by last year’s meeting.

“There’s a difference between hearing and listening,” said Robin Maril of the Human Rights Campaign, one of the attendees. “For a listening session to actually be successful, we would’ve had to see actual, meaningful engagement. And we’ve seen nothing but disappointing and harmful policies come out of HHS and [the civil rights office] since the meeting.”

“A number of us struggled with whether we would participate in something that would be used for exactly this purpose … a charade to be used by folks to suggest they are open-minded,” added Sharon McGowan of Lambda Legal, who also attended. “That was the lost cause that we suspected that it was.”

The Human Rights Campaign and Lambda Legal were among more than a dozen advocacy organizations that sent follow-up letters to Severino in April 2017 and July 2017 that warned HHS to halt rolling back LGBT protections and better engage the patient community. The advocates say they were ignored.

Only one attendee of last year’s listening session who responded to POLITICO — Ezra Young, a lawyer who has since left the Transgender Legal Defense and Education Fund and is now in private practice — said that he’s been reassured by Severino and HHS’ actions.

“I’m trying to be fair to them. There was a lot of fear based on what Roger wrote in the past,” said Young, a transgender, Latino man. “I don’t know at this point if all that fear is rational based on what has and hasn’t been done.” Young added that he’s been in dialogue with Severino, saying that the two men discussed lunch plans as recently as December.

However, Young’s former employer holds a different view. “This administration continues taking actions that harm our community, which already faces immense bias,” the organization said in a statement to POLITICO.

Christian conservatives hail HHS

Since Trump took office, multiple agencies have pursued policy reversals related to LGBT priorities. Under Attorney General Jeff Sessions, the Justice Department suggested that federal law doesn’t ban sex discrimination in the workplace for transgender employees, a turnaround from the Obama administration. The Department of Education this month said that it would no longer investigate transgender students’ complaints about access to bathrooms.

But Christian conservatives are noticing, and specifically praising, the reversals at the health department. “Few departments have [historically] given Christians more grief than HHS,” Tony Perkins of the Family Research Council wrote last month. But “from about-faces on radical sex ed to abortion policy, the White House is turning the Health and Human Services into a virtual promise-keeping factory.”

The Trump administration also has put its mark on the language it has — and hasn’t — included in formal HHS documents.

One recent flashpoint was the department’s four-year strategic plan, a document that’s required by federal law, prepared by career staff and used as an agency roadmap. The latest draft plan, which was released in October, did not make a single reference to LGBT health issues — a notable break from the two previous strategic plans, dating back to 2010. The agency removed the draft plan, which also contained strong anti-abortion language, from its web site late last year.

However, the plan originally contained references to LGBT health, two HHS staffers told POLITICO, until political appointees ordered that the language be stripped from the document. The effort was spearheaded by Shannon Royce, the agency’s liaison with religious groups, who staff say also took steps to include other language favorable to Christian conservatives.

“In our strategic plan, we actually affirmed life from conception to natural death,” Royce said, touting the new language at the Evangelicals for Life conference last month.

HHS did not respond to a question about why references to LGBT health were removed.

Past comments cited by LGBT staff

Beyond policy, staff say there have been clear signals about the personnel chosen to steer the department. For instance, the Obama administration tapped multiple LGBT officials for senior roles, including Richard Sorian to run the agency’s public affairs.

In contrast, the current public affairs chief is Charmaine Yoest, a prominent anti-abortion leader who for years advocated against same-sex marriage and other LGBT issues. For instance, Yoest a decade ago said that same-sex couples shouldn’t be allowed to adopt children and that transgender individuals suffered from mental disorders; she declined to comment on whether she still holds those positions now. (POLITICO first reported on Friday that Yoest will soon be leaving HHS.) Royce, the head of the faith-based office, previously worked as a senior leader for organizations that fought same-sex marriage and promoted “conversion therapy,” a controversial practice to change the sexual orientation of LGBT individuals.

Several other top officials also criticized LGBT priorities just months before joining the administration. “Vote LGBT if you want to be forced to have your baby delivered at an abortion clinic by an abortionist,” Matthew Bowman tweeted in April 2016, about nine months before being tapped by Trump to join the health department, where he is currently deputy general counsel. After the Obama administration in June 2016 expanded protections for transgender military members, Severino wrote that the “decision has nothing to do with the Constitution and everything to do with politics and a gender ideology run amok.”

HHS did not respond to specific questions about Yoest, Bowman, Severino and Royce’s past public comments, and made only Severino available for comment. But a spokesperson said that LGBT staff should not be concerned.

“All the HHS staff you refer to in your story have sworn to uphold the law and believe that everyone deserves to be treated with respect because of their inherent human dignity,” HHS spokesperson Matt Lloyd said in a statement. “The belief that marriage is between one man and one woman is a mainstream view held by millions of Americans, a belief the Supreme Court has said is based on ‘decent and honorable premises.'”

Severino, the son of Colombian immigrants, added that he’s spent his life working to combat bigotry after experiencing it growing up in California.

“I faced actual discrimination and mistreatment,” Severino said, who said he heard slurs while learning to swim at a public pool and was wrongly steered to remedial classes in high school. “Those sort of inflection points drives me and my passion for civil rights,” he added, pointing to his education at Harvard Law School and subsequent work in the Department of Justice, where he served as an attorney for seven years under the George W. Bush and Obama administrations.

Career staff say that, regardless of what agency leaders believe or maintain now, their past comments on LGBT priorities have been widely passed around the 80,000-person department. “I photocopied them and left them in the cafeteria,” said one staffer. “It’s important for people to know these are the leaders they work for.”

It’s also fostered a climate where six staffers who are LGBT described removing their wedding rings before coming to work in the morning, taking down photos of their partners and families or ultimately finding new jobs further away from certain political appointees. They did not want to be identified; two said they feared being reassigned for being gay.

“When you have to hide a major part of who you are … it’s really debilitating,” said one staffer. “I wish I had more courage to be out with these people.”

Some LGBT staffers told POLITICO they hesitated to raise their concerns while the agency was run by then-Secretary Tom Price, who as a congressman voted against LGBT priorities and as secretary was backed by the Family Research Council, an anti-LGBT group that holds an official position that “homosexual conduct is harmful.”

Long-serving staff who worked with new HHS Secretary Azar, when he served as a senior agency leader in the George W. Bush administration, or observed his work in the private sector say they’re hoping he’ll take a different approach. Under Azar’s watch, Eli Lilly was hailed by the Human Rights Campaign as a company committed to inclusion and LGBT protections. The Indiana-based company also opposed a state law that critics feared could be discriminatory against LGBT people.

“Alex always struck me as a very pragmatic person. Not an ideologue. Very business-like. Very smart,” said one LGBT staffer. “I’m hoping he’ll put some brakes on the ideological stuff.”

Staff also suggested that HHS has bigger priorities than rolling back LGBT health gains. “To the vast majority of Americans, this isn’t that big a deal anymore,” said an employee. “It’s perplexing why they spend so much time on it.”

[Politico]

 

 

Trump: ‘Doing the Military a Great Favor’ with Transgender Troop Ban

President Trump said Thursday he is “doing the military a great favor” by banning transgender people from serving in the armed forces.

“I have great respect for the community,” Trump said from his golf club in Bedminster, N.J. “I think I’ve had great support, or I’ve had great support from that community. I got a lot of votes. It’s been a very complicated issue for the military, it’s been a very confusing issue for the military, and I think I’m doing the military a great favor.”

Trump announced the sudden shift in military policy last month in a series of tweets.

“After consultation with my Generals and military experts, please be advised that the United States Government will not accept or allow Transgender individuals to serve in any capacity in the U.S. Military,” Trump tweeted at the time.

“Our military must be focused on decisive and overwhelming victory and cannot be burdened with the tremendous medical costs and disruption that transgender in the military would entail. Thank you”

The announcement sparked immediate criticism, including from top Republican senators and dozens of retired generals and admirals.

Two LGBTQ rights groups announced Wednesday that they would sue Trump over the ban, claiming claim the president’s July tweets announcing plans to reverse the Department of Defense’s policy on transgender service members violates the equal protection component of the due process clauses of the Fifth Amendment.

[The Hill]

Trump Says Transgender People Can’t Serve In Military

President Trump has announced that the government will not allow transgender people to serve in the U.S. military.

In a series of tweets on Wednesday morning, he wrote:

“After consultation with my Generals and military experts, please be advised that the United States Government will not accept or allow … Transgender individuals to serve in any capacity in the U.S. Military. Our military must be focused on decisive and overwhelming … victory and cannot be burdened with the tremendous medical costs and disruption that transgender in the military would entail. Thank you”

Transgender people already serve in the military. It’s not immediately clear how Trump intends to implement the ban, but the Pentagon announced Wednesday that it will defer enlistments by transgender applicants.

“Secretary [James] Mattis today approved a recommendation by the services to defer accessing transgender applicants into the military until Jan. 1, 2018,” Chief Pentagon spokesperson Dana White said in a statement. “The services will review their accession plans and provide input on the impact to the readiness and lethality of our forces.”

In June 2016, then-Secretary of Defense Ash Carter lifted the ban on transgender service members.

As NPR’s Merrit Kennedy reported then, Carter said the key reason for the change was “that the Defense Department and the military need to avail ourselves of all talent possible in order to remain what we are now — the finest fighting force the world has ever known.”

The move was an acknowledgement of the transgender people already in the military. Carter said RAND researchers estimated that “about 25,000 people out of approximately 825,000 reserve service members are transgender, with the upper end of their range of estimates of around 7,000 in the active component and 4,000 in the reserves.”

Trump’s announcement will likely be seen as running counter to a tweet he posted in 2016, in which Trump thanked the LGBT community. “I will fight for you while Hillary brings in more people that will threaten your freedoms and beliefs,” he pledged.

The Human Rights Campaign immediately tweeted its disapproval of Trump’s announcement. “Threatening 15K currently serving troops who put their lives at risk is unpatriotic and dangerous,” the LGBTQ rights organization said.

[NPR]

“As a presidential candidate, President Trump said that he “will do everything” to protect LGBT communities from violence, during his speech at the Republican National Convention in Cleveland.”

Attorney General Jeff Sessions Speaks to ‘Hate Group’ Behind Closed Doors

Attorney General Jeff Sessions gave an off-camera speech behind closed doors on Tuesday. As announced on his public schedule, Sessions addressed a crowd at the Alliance Defending Freedom’s Summit on Religious Liberty in Orange County, California.

As the news of the scheduled speech traveled, nonprofit advocacy groups and Democrats issued statements asking why the head of the U.S. Department of Justice was speaking at a meeting of a “hate group” — a designation bestowed upon Alliance Defending Freedom (ADF) by the Southern Poverty Law Center in 2016.

“You can judge a person by the company they keep and tonight – Attorney General Jeff Sessions is choosing to spend his time speaking in front of one of the country’s leading anti-LGBTQ hate groups,” Democratic Party spokesperson Joel Kasnetz wrote in a statement emailed to NBC News. “Sessions’ appearance at this event, as the top law enforcement official in the country, brings into question whether the attorney general intends to protect all Americans.”

NBC News asked the Justice Department for comment on the public outcry but did not receive a response. An additional request for comment sent to Alliance Defending Freedom did not receive a reply.

ADF is essentially a powerhouse Christian law firm, defending clients like Masterpiece Cakeshop, the bakery taking its refusal to make a same-sex wedding cake all the way to the Supreme Court. But with millions in its war chest, ADF does more than just litigate: The firm wrote model legislation called the Student Physical Privacy Act that built a foundation for dozens of proposals and policies around the country that are frequently referred to as “bathroom bills.” ADF’s model legislation, and the national trend that stems from it, is aimed at keeping transgender people out of restrooms and other private facilities that correspond to their gender identity and presentation.

Founded in 1994, the Alliance Defending Freedom was a coalition effort between conservative Christian leaders aiming to preserve traditional social norms, restrict access to abortion and fight the “homosexual agenda.” Much of the firm’s early work came in the form of court briefs urging states to keep anti-gay sodomy laws on the books and in fighting attempts to legalize same-sex marriage. After Massachusetts legalized gay marriage in 2003, ADF issued an official statement deriding the “radical homosexual” state policy.

“Radical homosexual activists have made their intentions clear – ‘couples’ will now converge on Massachusetts, ‘marry,’ and return to their respective states and file lawsuits to challenge Defense of Marriage Acts (DOMAs) and try to force the states to recognize their ‘marriages.’ We are disappointed but we’re going to continue the fight state by state,” longtime ADF president Alan Sears wrote at the time.

The list of anti-LGBTQ remarks by ADF co-founders is long; James C. Dobson wrote an entire book about the gay “culture war” in 2004’s “Marriage Under Fire.” But after a Supreme Court decision in Obergefell v. Hodges made same-sex marriage legal across America, ADF pivoted away from a now-futile fight and toward a new goal: keeping transgender people out of bathrooms.

In April, ADF attorney Kellie Fiedorek disputed the idea that the firm’s model legislation — and general motivation — is anti-LGBTQ or harmful to the rights of transgender people.

“The bills protecting privacy are simply ensuring that when it comes to intimate facilities, they are simply limiting them to biological sex. We all have a right to privacy,” Fiedorek said. “Even if you believe you are a man, a woman shouldn’t have to undress in front of you.”

In response to ADF being designated a hate group by the Southern Poverty Law Center, Fiedorek said the latter was “increasingly irrelevant” and “extreme,” saying ADF was the world’s “largest religious freedom legal advocacy organization.”

SPLC’s Heidi Beirich, though, told NBC News in April her organization doesn’t recklessly toss around the hate group label and had good reason to classify ADF as such a group.

“We don’t put a group on the hate list because they are against gay marriage,” Beirich said. “Where the rubber hits the road is when ADF attorneys engage in model legislation and litigation that attacks the LGBT community.”

The Attorney General’s own track record on LGBTQ issues has been cause for concern among LGBTQ advocates, too. When Sessions was confirmed in February, Lambda Legal executive director Rachel Tiven called it a “travesty,” while Mara Keisling of the National Center for Transgender Equality said the confirmation marked a “deeply distressing day for civil rights.”

[NBC News]

Trump Flip-Flops on North Carolina Transgender Bathroom Bill

Donald Trump answers questions on transgender bathroom use.

Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump is tweaking his stance on North Carolina’s transgender bathroom law less than a day after he voiced his opposition to the legislation and suggested the state should just “leave it the way it is.”

“I love North Carolina, and they have a law, and it’s a law that, you know, unfortunately is causing them some problems,” Trump told Fox News host Sean Hannity in an interview Thursday night. “And I fully understand that they want to go through, but they are losing business, and they are having people come out against.”

“I think that local communities and states should make the decision,” he went on to say. “And I feel very strongly about that. The federal government should not be involved.”

“In other words, let the state decide,” Hannity responded. “Kind of like your positions on education, give it back to the states.”

“Yeah, let them decide,” Trump said. “Absolutely.”

Reality

Trump has been flip-flopping on more and more issues lately. This is probably because he caught heat from the far-right wing of the Republican party for not being as insensitive as he usually is.

The North Carolina bathroom bill is a solution in search of a problem. There have been 0 reported cases of sexual assault by transgender individuals in public bathrooms. Coincidentally there have been 3 cases of Republican lawmakers arrested for sexual assault in a public bathroom.

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