The Trump administration has argued that Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 — which prohibits worker discrimination “because of sex,” among other characteristics such as race — does not protect individuals who claim to have been discriminated against because of their sexual orientation or gender identity.
LGBTQ rights advocates have countered that if the Supreme Court follows that line of argumentation, gay and transgender employees may be exposed to open discrimination — despite a 1989 Supreme Court decision against discrimination based on gender stereotypes and a similar 2015 conclusion by the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission.
With a conservative-leaning Supreme Court and the Trump administration’s opposition to interpreting Title VII as offering protection to gay and transgender workers, rights advocates see a “critical point in history.”
LGBTQ rights advocates in a number of foreign countries would agree, based on their own legal and political challenges abroad.
The persistence of anti-LGBTQ sentiments or the exploitation of such sentiments by leading politicians has not been limited to some of the world’s least tolerant nations.
Even though public approval of same-sex marriage has risen in a number of countries, including the United States, there are growing fears of a conservative backlash supported by opportunistic, populist right-wing politicians.
But those advances have clashed with public skepticism and a growing political influence of evangelicals in the country — as well as the political rise of President Jair Bolsonaro, whose homophobic remarks are endangering LGBTQ individuals, according to rights advocates.
“Before, there was a sense that there were institutions that could help you. Judges, police, justice officials — you could rely on them. But now people feel comfortable saying things they wouldn’t have before and more comfortable doing things they used to not,” Miguel Doldan, a trans Brazilian man, told The Washington Post’s Terrence McCoy in July.
The impact has so far been felt particularly heavily in schools, where Christian groups have pushed for bans on sexual identity education. But the governmental pressure has also resulted in steps to curtail LGBTQ rights in other realms. Rights advocates say hate crimes have sharply increased as a result.
LGBTQ advocates across parts of post-communist Central Europe tell a similar story. In Poland, they have accused the country’s right-wing populist Law and Justice party of exploiting a conservative backlash against their growing rights movement. Ahead of parliamentary elections this week, Law and Justice’s prior focus on opposing migration has largely been replaced with what its lawmakers say is “LGBT ideology."
Some cities and provinces have declared themselves “LGBT-ideology free,” even though the declarations have no legal significance.
They still have sent a powerful and intimidating message to LGBTQ rights campaigners.
The party’s leader, Jaroslaw Kaczynski, doubled down on those moves by condemning the integration of LGBTQ issues and sex education in school curriculums as “an attack on the family” and “an attack on children.”
“LGBT ideology,” Kaczynski said earlier this year, is a “threat to Polish identity, to our nation, to its existence and thus to the Polish state.” He also called it an import from abroad.
His rhetoric echoed some of Bolsonaro’s remarks.
As in Brazil, LGBTQ rights campaigners in Poland fear that the political division and heated rhetoric have led to a rise in hate crimes. This summer, tensions escalated during an LGBTQ parade in the eastern Polish city of Bialystok, as anti-LGBTQ protesters attacked participants in the march.
Meanwhile, in Hungary, a senior member of the Fidesz ruling party called for a boycott of Coca-Cola in August, after one of the company’s ad campaigns featured same-sex couples.
The incident prompted concerns that Prime Minister Viktor Orbán’s right-wing government may be testing whether anti-LGBTQ sentiments can be exploited to a similar extent in Hungary as they have been in Poland.
Elsewhere in Europe, opposition parties have resorted to the same strategy.
In France, the far right recently joined forces with religious leaders to rally against an effort by President Emmanuel Macron to allow single women and lesbian couples access to in vitro fertilization. Critics of the law — among them the far-right National Rally opposition party — argue that legalizing such procedures deprives children of their right to have a father.
Meanwhile, Austria’s right-wing Freedom Party recently revived calls to ban same-sex marriage, which became legal in January. As a coalition partner in Chancellor Sebastian Kurz’s right-wing government, the Freedom Party initially muted its criticism and refrained from challenging the legalization.
But after a government breakup this summer and plummeting approval ratings for the party, its new leader scrambled to mobilize core voters with the proposed same-sex marriage ban, which was introduced only days before new elections.
The Freedom Party still suffered significant losses, in what may serve as a warning to other right-wing parties seeking to exploit anti-LGBTQ sentiments electorally.