Congressional Forum on Civil Rights Under the Trump Administration

by Jennifer Pike Bailey

Members of Congress who have championed civil rights held a forum on Thursday titled “Civil Rights Under the Trump Administration-The First 100 Days.”

Members of Congress who have championed civil rights held a forum on Thursday titled “Civil Rights Under the Trump Administration-The First 100 Days.” Witnesses covered a range of issues highlighting the troubling trend of the Administration pulling back federal enforcement of civil rights protections, including non-discrimination protections for the transgender community.

House Judiciary Committee Ranking Member John Conyers (D-MI), Education and Workforce Committee Ranking Member Bobby Scott (D-VA), and Congressional Black Caucus Chair Representative Cedric Richmond (D-LA) hosted the forum, and were joined by Representatives Eddie Bernice Johnson (D-TX), Joyce Beatty (D-OH), Al Lawson (D-FL), Sheila Jackson Lee (D-TX), and Terri Sewell (D-AL).

Several witnesses and Members of Congress spoke about the recent Trump Administration actions attempting to dismantle transgender rights. Gavin Grimm, a transgender student who is the plaintiff in the landmark ACLU case G.G. v. Gloucester County School Board, told the packed room about his fight to be treated fairly at his school after his school board mandated that he not be allowed to use the boys’ restroom. He also spoke about the administration’s withdrawal of guidance outlining protections for transgender students and the message that the move sent to transgender young people--that the leader of our country doesn’t care about protecting them from discrimination.

Catherine Lhamon, Chair of the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights and former Assistant Secretary for Civil Rights at the Department of Education, was instrumental in creating the transgender student guidance. The guidance, which was issued in 2016, simply clarified schools’ obligations to protect transgender students under Title IX, the federal law prohibiting discrimination based on sex in educational programs. She spoke about how damaging it was to transgender young people to remove the guidance. She also decried the appointment of Roger Severino to lead the Office for Civil Rights in the Department of Health and Human Services, noting that the only experience he has with civil rights in healthcare is his vocal opposition to the vital transgender non-discrimination protections included in the Affordable Care Act.

Roy Austin, former director of the White House Office of Urban Affairs, Justice, and Opportunity under President Obama, spoke about the disproportionate levels of bullying and violence that transgender people face on a daily basis.

Witnesses also focused on a recent announcement from Attorney General Jeff Sessions that the Justice Department would be backing off of efforts to reform local police departments. They talked about the administration pivoting away from enforcement of voting rights and fair housing rules, and several touched on law enforcement profiling of religious minorities and dangerous new immigration policies.

It is clear that in its first few months, the Trump Administration has worked to undermine the civil rights advancements our nation has developed over the past six decades. HRC will continue to stand with our coalition partners across the civil rights community to fight against every attempt to dismantle our rights.