Stop the Department of Health and Human Service's Attacks on LGBTQ Rights

 

Under the Trump administration, there have been countless assaults on the health and rights of the LGBTQ community. From religious refusals to blatant discrimination, Julie Gonen with the National Center for Lesbian Rights talks to us about how the Trump administration is attacking LGBTQ rights through the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS).

Under this new administration, any employer that provides insurance to their employees and objects to covering contraception for any religious or moral reasons has the ability to opt out. If you’d like to learn more about religious refusals, you can find our podcast episode here. There are people in the LGBTQ community who need access to contraception, and the concept of an employer being able to decide whether or not you have the ability to access contraceptive care is a human rights violation.

While the United States has already had religious liberty laws that allow medical professionals to opt out of care in certain situations, the new administration has placed protections for religious liberty above an individual’s ability to receive comprehensive healthcare. Not only has HHS created an entire office dedicated to overseeing the protection of medical professional’s religious refusals, they have released a proposed regulation that defines how they will enforce these laws.

Section 1557 of the Health Care Rights Law in the Affordable Care Act prevents discrimination in healthcare provision or health insurance based on a number of protective characteristics. Most applicably, section 1557 prevents discrimination based on sex. This includes discrimination based on gender identification, whether or not someone has had an abortion, gender stereotypes, etc. The Trump administration issued a proposed rule that erased the definition of sex discrimination in section 1557 and created a religious exemption.

Title X, the nation’s only family planning funding program for low-income individuals, is also explicitly under attack by the Trump administration. Planned Parenthood serves about 40% of patients in Title X, and has recently pulled out of the program. Abortion and family planning providers have become a solid source of healthcare for LGBTQ people because they are welcoming and affirming spaces. If Title X clinics have to limit hours or close their doors, the LGBTQ community could experience a cut to their access to care.

Early in the Supreme Court term, there will be a number of cases regarding discrimination, identity, and LGBTQ rights.

Photo by Cecilie Johnsen on Unsplash

Transcript

Jennie Welcome to RePROs Fight Back, a podcast on all things repro. I'm your host, Jennie Wetter, and each episode I'll be taking you to the front lines of the escalating fight over our sexual and reproductive health and rights at home and abroad. Each episode I'll be speaking with leaders who are fighting to protect our reproductive health and rights to ensure that no one's reproductive health depends on where they live. It's time for RePROs to fight back.

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Jennie: Hi everyone and welcome to this week's episode of RePROs Fight Back. I'm your host, Jennie Wetter, and on this week's episode we are going to look at all the ways that the Trump-Pence administration is attacking LGBTQ rights within the Department of Health and Human Services. Helping me dig into this topic today, I'm excited to have Julie Gonen with the National Center for Lesbian Rights here with me today. Hi Julie. Thank you so much for being here.

Julie: Hi. Thank you for having me.

Jennie: So since the Trump-Pence administration took office, unfortunately one of the groups that has been the most targeted really is the LGBTQ community because there is such a wide range of ways that they have attacked. Maybe we'll just focus on what they're doing at HHS instead of the full range of all the things. So let's start maybe kind of at the beginning. And I think one of the first things that people might not think about the birth control rule that was put in place under the Obama administration. Do you wanna talk a little bit about what happened there?

Julie: Certainly I'd be happy to. And you're right, even just focusing on HHS, we still have a lot to talk about unfortunately. So one of the many important things that came out of the Affordable Care Act was that health insurance plans now have to cover preventive services. And the statute kind of had this placeholder for what preventive services would be for women. And the HHS under the Obama administration decided, which makes eminent sense, that that list of services should include contraception. But of course it was controversial from the very beginning. So the regulations that came out promising that contraception would be part of that list of services, continued exemption for houses of worship. So churches, mosques, synagogues didn't have to cover it, but everybody else was supposed to, a number of employers decided they didn't want to cover contraception. And so the lawsuits began immediately and you can kind of think of them as being in two buckets.One were the lawsuits brought by nonprofit employers that had some sort of religious affiliation. And then the other bucket were the lawsuits brought by for profit companies. That sort of lawsuits of course led to the infamous Hobby Lobby decision. A few years later when the Supreme Court said that actually for profit companies could have religious belief and if they were closely held, meaning just a small group of people own the, they could opt out of the contraception benefit. The nonprofit lawsuits have been a little bit messier. The Obama administration tried to implement or did implement some additional regulations to try to accommodate those folks, but it wasn't enough for some of them. So those cases are actually still kind of muddling their way through the courts. What has happened under the Trump administration is that they came in and said, you know what, we just want to give everybody an exemption for either religious or moral objections to contraception. So now under the rules that they've put in place, any employer who objects to covering contraception for any reason pretty much can opt out. The rules are on hold right now because there are some lawsuits going on that have led to some injunctions. But it is troubling that this administration has been bending over backwards in so many ways to allow religious exemptions from health care.

Jennie: Yeah, I mean I think one of the things that I always found particularly troubling with it was, I mean religious exemptions are one thing and there be um, really brought and harm people's access to health care. But this whole added moral exemption just really expanded like who could object.

Julie: I think that's right. It seems like these exceptions are now could potentially swallow the rule. So yeah, it is concerning. And some of the other things I think we're going to talk about in a few minutes. You see this theme through the rules coming out of this administration, particularly out of the Department of Health and Human Services where religious exemptions are being elevated over really concerns about people having access to care.

Jennie: Yeah, that's true. And we'll definitely get into a number of other ways that that's true. So maybe you want to talk a little bit about how that impacts the LGBTQ community, because I think a lot of times does not first and foremost in people's minds when they think about the birth control benefit, right? Is how it would impact the LGBTQ community.

Julie: Yeah, that's a good question. Some of the ways are, well, it depends on who you are and where you sit. To some extent, it's a little bit obvious. There are people in the LGBTQ community who do need access to contraception, so it can impact us directly that way. We can't always assume that the way someone identifies let's you know exactly what their sexual behaviors are and what their needs are with regard to contraception. But I think more broadly and more troubling is this notion that I touched on a minute ago, that an employer's religious beliefs can dictate the kind of health care you get. So even if we're not talking about birth control necessarily, that concept has the potential to and has spilled over into other areas too. So I think it's just a principle that's really troubling that an employer can say, my religious beliefs are going to dictate what you get as health care.

Jennie: Yeah. That was always super troubling to me. It always seems all of a sudden freedom of religion became a weapon that I can impose my religious views on anybody versus other people needing to respect mine.

Julie: That's true. One of the first decisions that came out of a federal court when the birth control rules came out and they started getting sued over the, the administration was getting sued. There was a really great quote from one of the judges who said that religious liberty, religious freedom is supposed to be a shield and not a sword. So the idea is the government's not supposed to be able to come in and tell you how to practice your religion or infringe upon your practice of religion. But it seems like it's being converted now into a way to impose beliefs on other people. And I think that's what we're seeing particularly in the healthcare arena.

Jennie: Absolutely. Okay. So one of the next things that came out was this whole conscience rule and conscience division within HHS. There was kind of a number of things are within it. Do you maybe want to kind of break out some of the things that are happening with that?

Julie: Unfortunately, yes, that is, that is something that we're now kind of all grappling with and that really cuts across reproductive health care, health care for LGBTQ people in others. So we've always had laws at the federal level that allow for religious freedom or religious liberty that allows certain providers to opt out of performing certain kinds of healthcare services to which they have a personal religious objections. So we have the Church amendments, the Weldon amendment, things like that. What has happened under this administration is that HHS, again, our favorite agency today, has decided to prioritize enforcement of those religious exemption rules really above making sure people have access to health care. So what they apparently did was to look all across the federal statutes, the Federal Code, and they've gathered together 25 different federal laws that somehow provide the ability to opt out of providing healthcare. And they decided that enforcement of all of those laws was going to be their main focus. So as you touched on, they created a whole separate division within the office for civil rights at the Department of Health and Human Services to enforce these laws. So they created the office last year and then they issued a proposed regulation that has now been issued in final form that tells us how they plan to go about enforcing these laws. As a lawyer, I can say their reasoning in this regulation is legally suspect in some areas. It's not at all clear that they have the authority to enforce all of these laws and in the way that they purport to want to do. But again, what I think is most troubling is just the overall orientation of the agency in that they seem to think it's more important to allow healthcare providers to not provide care then to make sure that patients actually get care.

Jennie: Yeah. That's one of the things that's really troubling and it's something I have talked about on the podcast before, is I went to the University of Wisconsin. I had two roommates who were of more conservative religions and we're both going into healthcare related fields and one was gonna be a pharmacist and one was going to be a physician's assistant. And I just remember this was like before I was really involved in healthcare and didn't, had never heard of some of these conscience type things. They were talking about how they would not fill prescriptions they didn't agree with or weren't going to treat HIV positive or LGBTQ people and just being like, that's not a thing. You can't do that. Like it's still to this day boggles my mind that doctors can try to use moral or religious objections to not treat people the, to me, that just seems so antithetical to what they're supposed to do.

Julie: I would agree. It is troubling in, as I mentioned before, we've had some federal statutes before that allowed opting out of certain kinds of procedures, but they were really only intended to apply to the people who would actually be doing the procedures. One of the things that's most troubling about, while there are many things that are very troubling about this new conscience rural out of HHS, but what's concerning is how they define certain terms. One of which is, I'm using air quotes here, “assist in the performance of”-- so what? What they're saying in the rule is that it's not just a doctor or a nurse, for example, who might be involved in, let's say, doing an abortion, but somebody at the front desk who would be scheduling the appointment, perhaps an ambulance driver who would be driving a patient, somebody who's preparing instruments for the procedure. What the rule seems to say is that anybody who has even the most remote connection too, a procedure can opt out. And if you can imagine from the perspective of a hospital or a clinic who is trying to make sure that that healthcare is delivered, that could be a nightmare scenario when you have people in all different kinds of jobs throughout your facility saying that they don't want to do certain things. And again, you're trying to make sure that patients get health care. So it is troubling and I agree with you that people going into health care should really be thinking about making sure people get care not about what they're going to refuse to do.

Jennie: Yeah. It's just so outside of my world view that I, I have a hard time understanding how you would refuse to treat somebody… Maybe focusing more on the repro side and definitely that absolutely it applies to the LGBTQ community too, but also there are special things that may just apply to the LGBTQ community within this area.

Julie: There are a lot of potential scenarios that could come up under a refusal rule like this. You know, we're very accustomed to thinking about things like abortion and now unfortunately contraception, but as you touched on earlier, there are other things to which some health care providers might object. Treating somebody who's transgender, you're making sure they have access trends to transition related care or treating them at all. We have a program or a campaign within NCLR called Rural Pride that we've been doing for a few years now where we go to rural communities around the country too. We engage in dialogue with LGBTQ people who are living in those communities to talk to them about what's unique or different or not about being in a rural area and healthcare access is a theme that comes up consistently that is of concern to people. As you can imagine, if you get turned away from a healthcare provider in a rural community, you may really have nowhere else to go. That is anywhere close to being a place you can get. And we hear stories about that. We were in North Dakota last year and I heard a couple, a lesbian couple, one partner was transgender and they spoke about a doctor's office literally saying, we don't treat people like you. Now that actually is unlawful under a rule I think we're going to talk about in a few minutes. But it's heartbreaking to hear that people being treated like that. And again, I think what's troubling about these rules coming out of HHS is that it appears as though they're actually inviting healthcare providers to engage in that kind of discrimination rather than making it the exception. It seems like they want it to almost become the rule in ways like that.

Jennie: It's just bullying, just being purposely cruel to people for who they are. And I, you know, I, again, I grew up in small town Wisconsin, kind of a rural area. So you know, I know this was definitely a different time where people were much more hesitant to come out in rural areas and I think that's still true and a lot of rural areas. So I just couldn't imagine some of my friends who might have needed access to care when they weren't even comfortable yet coming out in that community because it's small town, everybody knows everything. So if you go to see a provider like it might get out.

Julie: Yeah. And I think we have surveys or a number of surveys that have come out over the last five to 10 years that really document the kind of discrimination and, and just bad treatment that LGBTQ people face when they go to see health care providers. And unfortunately it means that a lot of them just don't because they don't want to be mis-gendered. They don't want, if they're lesbian, to be continually asked about birth control, if it's not something that they need or just to have people just treat them shabbily or not want to touch them. I mean, there are all kinds of things we hear about and it's just, um, I know I keep saying this, but it, to me it's just really concerning, is an understatement that this administration seems to be giving a greenlight to that sort of behavior on the part of healthcare providers.

Jennie: Yeah, I agree. I think that's really worrisome and it feels like you're hearing more and more about more and more stories because people are being more and more emboldened, which is very sad. So often in shorthand we hear people talking about the 1557 rule, but before we can maybe talk about how it's changed, we should talk about it a little bit. What the 1557 rule is?

Julie: Sure. Uh, section 1557… it sounds kind of wonky, but it report refers to a particular section of the Affordable Care Act. And it was probably, I mean the ACA did so many important things, but this might be one of the most important. Section 1557 is the nondiscrimination section of the ACA. And what it says is you cannot discriminate in healthcare provision or in health insurance based on a number of protected characteristics. And one of the most important is that for the first time ever in federal law, you can't discriminate in healthcare based on sex. So 1557 refers to the provision in the bill. What we'd like to really call it though is the Health Care Rights Law because that's really what it's about. It's about making sure people can exercise their, their rights in, in health care. So 1557 refers to the statute. But what's really important also is that under President Obama, the Department of Health and Human Services issued some regulations that really tells us what it means. That's often what happens. You know, statutes can sometimes be kind of broad. It's really the regulations that often you have to look to, to figure out what it means in real life. The Obama administration took six years before issuing regulations on this thing because they were very, very careful about it and they wanted to make sure that the regulations were consistent with federal law around sex discrimination. So what they said in the regs that came out in 2016 was that sex discrimination means a whole lot of things. It's not just whether you're a woman or a man. It also means discrimination based on gender identity or whether you are pregnant or could be pregnant or have had an abortion or um, sex stereotypes as well. So this means that it sweeps fairly broadly. So any kind of discrimination that takes sex into account in some ways is included and that's really, really important. So that was a really good thing under the Obama administration.

Jennie: And I can only imagine that the Trump-Pence administration kept everything the same and everything's wonderful.

Julie: Oh, if only that were true in so many areas. But like many others, this is an area that they have decided to make some changes and not good ones. So they issued a proposed rule a few months ago and it's not final yet, but it will be sometime in the next year or so. Probably. Basically just erasing everything I just said. So the definition of sex discrimination that the Obama administration created, the Trump administration is simply deleted. So they didn't even try to help healthcare providers or patients understand what sex discrimination does mean. They just said what it doesn't mean. And it's all the things that we used to have. So they erase protections based on gender identity, based on sex stereotyping, based on pregnancy or abortion. They just made it go away. And they also added a big religious exemption, which based on what we've been talking about should be no surprise.

Jennie: So they took away a lot of the explicit protections and they've created yet another way that healthcare providers can discriminate based on religion.

Julie: Yeah. Again, one of the communities that is definitely gonna feel the most pain from this is the LGBTQ community. I mean, they deleted the definitions and what you see in a lot of the moves by this administration is that they almost want to act as though transgender people in particular don't exist and that queer people don't need any kind of special protections. They just almost want to turn their heads and look the other way. So this rule has been very important in, for example, that situation I told you about in North Dakota when that couple was telling the story and I jumped up and said, no, you don't have to accept that. They said, oh, we live in a red state. So that's just sort of what we have to deal with. But that's what was so important about 1557 or I should say the Health Care Rights Law is that, no, you don't have to accept that just because you live in a red state or anywhere federal law says you can't be discriminated on based on sex. What that sort of shows a little bit of a side note is how important it is that actually people know what their rights are. There's a lot of work to be done and making sure that people understand that they don't have to take this when they get treated that way. So it was there for a year or two or three I guess, and now I'm, you know, we'll see what happens at the end of the day because we off, we have recourse when they issue bad rules. If they've done it in a way that's legally suspect, there are ways to challenge it in court. But again, it just shows what the priorities of this administration are that either they don't believe that our community faces discrimination, healthcare or they don't care either way.

Jennie: The end result is pretty bad. Yeah, and I think you're right. It's so important that people are educated to know their full range of rights around health care. And I also saw earlier that it was really important that people in health were educated about how far those assumptions went. I know when the conscious rules were first coming around, I'm close to some my news on a hospital board and uh, was talking to them about it and they just had no idea like how deep the exceptions were like that it could be a scheduler or whatever. So I think kind of the, the education on a lot of different fronts was a little not reaching all the right people.

Julie: I think that's right. And unfortunately how someone like that might end up learning about it is when an employee wants to invoke one of these exemptions and refuses to do something and then there's a conflict in the workplace and then that hospital or, or other kinds of healthcare employer will have to deal with that. And then they're going to find out pretty quickly that they have a, a really untenable situation where again, they're trying to make sure that they can serve their patients and yet people are potentially opt out of doing their jobs.

Jennie: So unfortunately this isn't the end of that. There is more. So in a recent episode, we really kind of dug into Title X and what's been happening around Title X but just in case people haven't listened to it, maybe you want to do a really quick like what's going on around Title X?

Julie: Yeah, Title X is an amazing program that as your guests on that program, I think someone from Planned Parenthood noted it was a statute that was passed back in the 70s it was on a bipartisan basis, signed into law by President Nixon. So it's the only federal family planning program. It provides funds to clinics and health all around the country to make sure that they can provide contraception and related services to low income folks so it makes family planning accessible and affordable around the country. It's a, it's a critical program. One of the things that's always been part of the law that created the program was that the money can only be used for contraception and not for abortion, which is unfortunate, but the providers who get Title X money know this and they've had systems in place since the beginning to make sure that if they are a place that provides both contraception and abortion, the Title X money only goes to support the contraception and abortion care is paid for in other ways. The Trump administration has issued new regulations saying that they don't basically want abortion providers to be in the Title X program and let's be honest, that's the goal. So there were a number of pieces to the rule. One piece said if you're an abortion provider who gets Title X funds, you have to have a completely separate facilities for the contraception work that you do and for the abortion care. So literally separate buildings, separate personnel, separate computer and filing systems. Totally ridiculous because again, the providers know how to funnel the money into the right places. They also, and this is why we call it a gag rule, it included this new regulation included provision saying that if you are a doctor or a nurse or another provider in the Title X program and you're counseling a patient, you can't refer a patient for abortion even if that's what that patient was. Some aspects of the world actually quite silly. What the rule says is, oh sure, you can give the patient a whole list of other providers in the community, some of which provide abortion, but you can't tell her which ones actually do provide abortion. So they kind of make it seem like, oh, we're not actually stifling communication between providers and patients, but of course they absolutely are. The, the restrictions are so onerous that as a lot of people probably know Planned Parenthood has pulled out of the program, which the importance of that cannot be overstated. Planned Parenthood serves about 40% of the patients in the Title X program for them to just go away is um, it's really kind of an earth shattering development. And certainly they didn't make that decision lightly, but their choices were too put their providers in an untenable position of really almost compromising their medical ethics and not being able to have full and frank communications with their patients if they want to keep the Title X money. So basically they decided that the money came with too big a price tag if you will, and decided they couldn't do it anymore. Other providers are doing the same thing.

Jennie: Yeah, I think that's so true. Planned Parenthood has left and there are others that are following them right out because they cannot compromise their ethics. Um, so, you know, kind of similar to birth control, there's a lot of ways where it's obvious how this relates to the LGBTQ community, but I think there in ways that people also haven't thought about within this that I think are worth flushing out more. You want to talk about that?

Julie: Sure. Um, and just like I said before, there are certainly members of the LGBTQ community who do need birth control for the same reason anybody else does. It's also just of course concerning that the federal government is putting conditions on a federal healthcare program on a public health program that are completely based in ideology and have nothing to do with health care. And we're not based on any evidence anywhere of any violations of the existing rules. So it's really a solution in search of a problem. But one of the things that I think a lot of people might not know is that abortion providers and other family planning providers around the country have become really important sources of health care for LGBTQ people. And again, if you don't think about it very long, it might seem, um, not obvious. Well, why would queer folks be going to family planning clinics? Like they don't need it? Well, first of all, of course they do need family planning. But the other thing is that there's just sort of an orientation or an attitude within those clinics that it makes a lot of sense why they would be opening their doors and becoming welcoming and affirming spaces for queer folks. Abortion providers in particular, not all Title X providers do provide abortion, but some do clinics and providers who have been delivering abortion care, they understand stigma and people who have faced discrimination in the healthcare system because that's really what they're all about. I mean, there's probably nothing more controversial and more stigmatized than abortion. So they understand what it means to create an affirming space for patients who are coming in who are getting a healthcare service that is difficult. So it again, it kind of makes sense that they would then open their doors and say, well, you know, we can provide this kind of exceptional care and this understanding about stigma to another community that often struggles to find care in a way that's affirming and dignified. So Title X clinics, a lot of them have become really important sources of care for LGBTQ people. So if they can't stay in the Title X program and get those really important federal dollars and they have to close their doors or limit the amount of hours are open during the week, that literally means that a place that our community is going to see care is going to disappear. So that's a a less obvious way that I think there could be some really negative spillover effects from this really bad rule, but such an important way. I think that, again, like you said, not something that people will think about automatically.

Jennie: And I think another really important thing is, so we've talked about four different ways that the LGBTQ community has been under attack. So they might not be able to go to a Title X clinic. Well, so they might try to go do a different doctor and this doctor may have conscience objections. And so all of these things are gonna work together to limit people's ability to access care.

Julie: I think that's right. It's sort of attacks on so many different fronts. And the overall theme is, again, not making sure people get care, but making sure that those who are to be providing the care have ways to opt out. Or in the case of Title X driving out of the program, the providers who know the most about the services that are supposed to be provided. I mean, driving Planned Parenthood out of the Title X program makes no sense. But we know that Republicans, even before the Trump administration have been trying for years to so-called defund Planned Parenthood and make sure they can't get any federal dollars. But I mean talk about cutting off your nose to spite your face. You're, you're kicking out of the program, the largest provider and the one that has probably the most expertise. So it's, it's really terrible public health policy.

Jennie: So one of the things I always like to kind of wrap up with is what can listeners do? We've heard all of this horrible stuff. What can listeners do to fight back on all of these attacks?

Julie: Well, there are a number of things. Some of them are sound kind of wonky, but we've been talking about regulations this whole time this morning. And one of the good things about regulations is that when the government issues them, they have to allow the public to weigh in and comment on them before they're allowed to go into effect. So they can't just sort of pass rule to say, okay, now everybody has to change their behavior. They have to put them out for comment and read all those comments. They're supposed to literally read them all take into account the comments that come in and potentially change the rule. They don't always change the rule, but it does happen sometimes. In fact, there was a, a regulation that came out, a draft regulation that came out earlier this year that would have made it really hard for insurance companies, private insurance companies to continue providing abortion care. And HHS got so many comments on that particular rule that they just withdrew it because they, and in the final rule, they literally said, we don't really know what to do here because we didn't have time to go through all the comments. So sometimes when the rules are bad, flooding the agency with a lot of comments is a great way to slow things down because they literally can't, they drown in the comments. But it's also just really important that we all get heard. And submitting comments on regulations is not just something that lawyers can do or nonprofit advocacy organizations can do. Anybody can do it. Anybody can comment and should. And one of the things I think that our communities, the reproductive rights and justice communities and the LGBT communities have gotten better at is helping folks who don't do this for a living. Like we do get involved in the process. So creating portals where you can write your own comment. And honestly I think comments from the public are actually in a lot of ways more powerful than those that are written by people like me who are going to use a lot of legal jargon... I mean that's important too. But I think stories really matters. So cause these rules are read by humans. There are humans at these agencies and not all of them are trying to do bad things. You know, the folks who are coming in and making all these changes are the political people who are aligned with Donald Trump and Mike Pence. But there are still staff people at these agencies who want to do the right thing and we have to think about speaking to them because they still have things they can do. If nothing else to slow things down, you know, gum up the works. Literally. So, write comments, tell your story. Tell them why allowing religious refusals in health care is a bad thing. Stories like you told about, you know, listening to you know, young healthcare providers talk about what they're going to do and not do and how that scared you. You know, I think these agencies need to hear these things. So comment on rules. Engage on social media. I'm looking over your shoulder. You've got some hashtags on the wall here about the Title X program. You know, look for those hashtags, elevate those. Um, keep this stuff front and center. Contact your members of Congress too because if these agencies go rogue too much on these things, we can do something through, through Congress. And particularly now because the Democrats control the House, they can do oversight hearing. So if they look at what HHS is doing and say, you know what, this is really bad for people. This is bad for people in my district. They can bring those agency officials in for a hearing and make them talk about it and hold them accountable. So if you contact your member of Congress and say that you're worried about this stuff, then maybe they'll, they'll take some action. So I think the key thing is that none of us, we just can't allow ourselves to be erased and silenced. So there are, I think a number of ways. There are probably even more than that. But those were a few that I can think of right now.

Jennie: Great. Well before we end, when this episode comes out, it's getting ready to be right before the Supreme Court term starts. And something that I feel like has been a little more quiet is that there's some pretty big LGBTQ cases coming before the Supreme Court this coming term. Do you maybe just want to do some highlights, like top level, like what is coming and what that would mean for people?

Julie: Yeah, very early in the Supreme Court term, I believe on October 8th there will be arguments before the Supreme Court on three separate cases that have been kind of consolidated for purposes of the arguments because they all deal with a common question. That question is whether something called title seven which is a federal law that prohibits employment discrimination, covers sexual orientation and gender identity. Title seven does cover sex discrimination. It was passed in the 60s and really ever since we've been grappling as a nation with, well what does sex discrimination mean exactly? What does it include? It seems pretty obvious that if you are fired or not hired because you're a woman or because you're a man that's covered. Everybody agrees on that. But since the statute was passed, the courts have interpreted it to me and other things as well. So it includes things like sexual harassment, creating a hostile work environment based on sex in the workplace. So the courts have kind of added meaning, a nuance to what sex means. The things that the courts are kind of all over the place on is does it include sexual orientation and does it include gender identity? The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, which is the federal agency that interprets title seven has said, of course it includes those things. It doesn't make sense for it not to because if you discriminate against someone based there being a lesbian or being a gay man, you are taking sex into account when you do that. Similarly, if you discriminate against somebody because they are presenting in a gender that doesn't align with what's on their birth certificate, you're taking sex into account. So it seems in some ways like a very simple question. Of course sex should mean sexual orientation and gender identity, but not all courts have agreed. So there are these three cases, two of which deal with sexual orientation. One deals with gender identity. The court's gonna kind of take them all into account together and decide whether title seven covers sexual orientation and gender identity. It's hugely important. Obviously some states have their own protections for employment discrimination, but some don't. So in those states that don't have their own, the federal law is the only law that employees have. So how the court interprets title seven will have a pretty significant impact on how the LGBTQ community is treated in the workplace.

Jennie: Yeah. Uh, so I guess stay tuned for arguments on October 8th and hopefully this new Supreme Court does the right thing.

Julie: We can certainly hope, sometimes justices surprise us. I mean the, the current composition of the court is concerning because it definitely leans conservative, but there have been instances even in the recent past where they've surprised us.

Jennie: So we're, um, we're remaining optimistic, keeping my fingers crossed, hoping for the best. Julie, thank you so much for doing this. It was wonderful to talk to you.

Julie: It was wonderful to be here. Thank you for inviting me.

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