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Trump Puts Anti-LGBTQ Activist in Charge of Civil Rights Office

Teddy Wilson

Mara Keisling, executive director of the National Center for Transgender Equality, said the president has “once again put the fox in charge of the hen house” by appointing someone to a government agency who opposes the agency’s mission.

The Trump administration’s attacks on LGBTQ rights continued this week with the appointment of Roger Severino to lead the Department of Health and Human Services’ Office of Civil Rights, which was established to ensure “fundamental nondiscrimination and health information privacy rights.” 

Severino is a longtime anti-LGBTQ activist who served as the director of the DeVos Center for Religion and Civil Society at the Heritage Foundation, a conservative think tank.

The Congressional LGBT Equality Caucus denounced Trump’s appointment of Severino. Rep. Joe Kennedy (D-MA) said in a statement that the appointment of Severino is “another warning shot” to those who support equal rights for LGBTQ people. 

“Mr. Severino has built a career on demonizing the transgender community, stoking fear about transgender identity, and—in particular—undermining equal access to health care,” Kennedy said. “It’s clear the President has no intention of keeping the promises he made to LGBTQ Americans.”

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The Severino appointment is the White House’s latest move to ally with those hostile to LGBTQ rights. The State Department announced last week that an official from the Center for Family & Human Rights, a designated a hate group due to its extreme anti-LGBTQ rhetoric, would represent the United States as a delegate at a United Nations event. It was revealed this week that the president’s cabinet-level agencies are working to undermine protections for the nation’s most vulnerable LGBTQ populations, almost a month after Attorney General Jeff Sessions and Education Secretary Betsy DeVos jointly rescinded Obama-era protections for transgender students under Title IX.

Severino co-authored a Heritage Foundation report that criticized a proposed Obama administration rule to prevent health-care discrimination against transgender patients. Severino claimed protections for transgender people would “penalize medical professionals and health care organizations that, as a matter of faith, moral conviction, or professional medical judgment, believe that maleness and femaleness are biological realities to be respected and affirmed, not altered or treated as diseases.”

Mara Keisling, executive director of the National Center for Transgender Equality, said in a statement that the Trump administration has “once again put the fox in charge of the hen house,” by appointing someone to a government agency who opposes the agency’s mission.

“He has made attacking women’s and LGBT people’s access to health care one of the centerpieces of his career, while his baseless claims about protections for transgender people—repeated over and over without any regard for the consequences on transgender people’s lives—betray a fundamental misunderstanding of federal civil rights laws, medical science, the reality of what it means to be transgender,” Keisling said.

Severino has written articles for the Daily Signal, a Heritage Foundation’s blog, using that platform to criticize the military’s transgender inclusive policy as a “radical new gender ideology.” He panned the Department of Justice lawsuit against North Carolina’s anti-transgender HB 2 law as an “unprecedented overreach.”

Severino has been hostile towards reproductive rights. He wrote that in the Whole Woman’s Health v. Hellerstedt ruling, the U.S. Supreme Court struck down a “reasonable law intended to protect women from conditions like those found at the Gosnell clinic.”

Wade Henderson, president and CEO of the Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights, said in a statement that the Office for Civil Rights is “essential to ensuring that all people can lead healthy lives, free of discriminatory barriers,” and that Severino is the wrong person to head that office.

“This appointment, made without fanfare, is part of disturbing trend by the Trump administration of naming people who disagree or outright oppose the mission or role of an agency or office to leadership positions within those entities,” Henderson said. “Absent a change by Congress, these offices and their leaders have an obligation to serve the American people, consistent with their mandate.”

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