This past Sunday, the New York Times published an explosive report outlining the Trump administration's plans to create a new definition of sex. Under the proposal, gender would be limited to either male or female and defined as permanent from birth. According to the Times, the Department of Health and Human Services has asked four federal agencies, including the Department of Labor, to adopt the narrow definition.
That leaves Miami native Alexander Acosta, who serves as Trump's secretary of labor, in a key position of influence. Acosta, the former dean of Florida International University's law school, has not publicly commented on the proposal since news of the memo went viral Sunday.
The HHS proposal undermines several Obama-era changes that recognized a more fluid definition of gender identity. In 2014, the Department of Labor announced new protections for transgender workers. But under Acosta's leadership, the agency recently issued guidance saying federal contractors can use a religious exemption to avoid anti-discrimination laws protecting LGBTQ+ employees. Also, the web page defining the Obama changes has been disabled.
Acosta's history alarms some trans advocates. In 2000, he served on a committee for the anti-gay Family Research Council, which roasted court decisions expanding civil liberties for gay and transgender Americans. (The Southern Poverty Law Center calls the FRC an "extremist group.") Then, in 2004, as assistant attorney general for the Civil Rights Division of the Department of Justice in George W. Bush's administration, Acosta sided with the Boy Scouts in a court battle about the organization's then-policy of discriminating against gay leaders and members.
In a statement to New Times, GLAAD's vice president of programs, Zeke Stokes, blasted Acosta's record on LGBTQ+ issues and the damage he could do by rolling back protections for transgender workers.
"Labor Secretary Alex Acosta’s ties to the hate group Family Research Council tell us exactly what the Trump Administration is trying to do here," Stokes wrote. "Transgender people already experience higher rates of economic instability and job insecurity, and these non-discrimination protections are crucial to transgender labor rights."
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Thanks to years of advocacy from the LGBTQ+ advocacy group SAVE Dade, employers in Miami-Dade, Broward, and Monroe Counties cannot discriminate against transgender workers. But that's not the case in many counties across Florida and the rest of the United States.
"Trans women, trans women of color, trans Latina, black, and Afro-Caribbean women are the most marginalized in our community," SAVE's executive director, Tony Lima, says. "These are people struggling to find jobs, many of whom are resorting to survival sex work in order to be able to live."
To Lima, the proposed changes signal a broader pattern of bigotry against transgender Americans.
"It’s interesting this administration is still fumbling with issues like this that don't need any kind of resolving," he says. "We have huge issues of immigration, huge issues with a need for gun reform, so many major issues out there that we need to be working on this country, and this is such a ridiculous issue to be harping on... It really pisses me off."