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George Diepenbrock
KU News Service

Reversal of DOJ position on workplace discrimination of transgender people is setback for movement, LGBTQ policy researcher says

Fri, 10/06/2017

LAWRENCE — Attorney General Jeff Sessions' order of the Justice Department to take the position in court cases that transgender people are not protected by a civil rights law that bans workplace discrimination is a "really big blow" for the transgender movement, according to a University of Kansas researcher of LGBTQ political movements.

Don Haider-Markel, professor and chair of the KU Department of Political Science, is available to discuss implications of the policy change that contracts an Obama administration approach to civil rights enforcement.

"Even though in practice it had not been effectively used as of yet, the Obama-era rule set the stage for litigation and the foundation for a national government position that had broad implications for transgender protections," he said.

Haider-Markel along with Patrick Miller, KU assistant professor of political science, has been part of a national research team that has published several recent studies on public opinion and the transgender movement. He has also co-edited a book "Transgender Rights and Politics."

As part of their recent work, the researchers found that the public generally supports civil rights-type protections for transgender people, especially in employment. The findings are consistent with the public backlash regarding a recent statement by President Donald Trump indicating a prohibition on transgender troops from serving in the military. However, their research also shows that the public is less supportive on policies that relate to the body and gender roles, such policies regulating public facilities, like bathrooms.

"Politically the Justice Department position makes sense for Trump and his base, and it should have been more broadly expected. However, given what we have seen from polling and the reaction to the military ban, I do expect a backlash," Haider-Markel said. "That said, Congress is unlikely to do much, and it sets back the movement's progress for several years at least. Americans do support transgender protections in employment, but it is also clear that the issue can be framed to decrease majority support, like around the bathroom issue. The implications for regulating bodies and gender norms are less clear."

To arrange an interview with Haider-Markel, contact George Diepenbrock at 785-864-8853 or gdiepenbrock@ku.edu.

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