A Second Trump Presidency Would Be A Nightmare Scenario For Transgender People

<span class="copyright">Illustration: Benjamin Currie/HuffPost; Photo: Getty</span>

Illustration: Benjamin Currie/HuffPost; Photo: Getty

Jules was driving to their friend’s house in St. Petersburg, Florida, last year when a police officer pulled them over for a busted taillight. Jules wondered if the officer saw their “Say Gay” sticker — a small protest to Republican Gov. Ron DeSantis’ “Don’t Say Gay” bill  — and nervously handed over their driver’s license. The 26-year-old EMT in training had legally changed their gender marker to an M on their state documents in 2019, but their photo still reflected how Jules looked early in their medical transition, someone without a thick dark mustache and more baby-faced.

The officer returned Jules’ driver’s license without any mention of their photo. But the officer did scold Jules, who had recently moved to a new home, for not having their current address on their ID. 

When Jules, who is using a pseudonym out of fear of harassment, went to their local Department of Motor Vehicles in November to update their address, employees told them there was no record of their gender marker update and that they could not get a replacement ID with their new address and keep the M at the same time. 

“I seem to think that they lost my paperwork,” said Jules, who is nonbinary and transmasculine. “The person sitting across from me at the time was pretty much like, ‘Any point going forward, any other time you change this ID, we’re going to have to put an F on it.’ I was like, ‘Damn, wow.’” 

Jules said the same thing happened when they tried to get a replacement ID in January.  Then, on Jan. 31, the Florida Department of Highway Safety and Motor Vehicles quietly issued a memostating that residents could no longer update or change their gender on state driver’s licenses but could still receive replacement licenses for any name or address changes. 

“Misrepresenting one’s gender, understood as sex, on a driver license constitutes fraud … and subjects an offender to criminal and civil penalties, including cancellation, suspension, or revocation of his or her driver license,” the memo read. 

Now transgender Floridians like Jules don’t know what to do: They’re worried about being turned away from getting a replacement ID with an accurate gender marker, but they’re also anxious about what will happen if they’re pulled over again with a license that has other incorrect information. 

The memo isn’t a formal law, rule or policy, advocates told HuffPost, which means it may be enforced at different department locations around the state. But even though there isn’t a law in place, the reality is that many trans Floridians are barred from updating their gender marker on their licenses, said Quinn Diaz, a public policy associate at LGBTQ+ rights group Equality Florida. People can still update their gender marker on newly issued licenses if they have already done so on other documents such as a passport or birth certificate.

“Expanding the Department’s authority to issue replacement licenses dependent on one’s internal sense of gender or sex identification is violative of the law and does not serve to enhance the security and reliability of Florida issued licenses and identification cards,” wrote Molly Best, a spokesperson for the Florida Department of Highway Safety and Motor Vehicles, in an emailed statement. “The security, reliability, and accuracy of government issued credentials is paramount.”

Florida’s DHSMV rolled out the memo while the state legislature was still deliberating over HB 1639, a bill that would have narrowly defined sex by one’s genitalia at birth and also barred transgender people from updating their IDs. 

“Sponsors of the bill started presenting the case for passing HB 1639 on the basis that it would bring the state into compliance with its current operations at the DHSMV,” Diaz said. “They were saying the bill was necessary because of the memo that was released by the agency days earlier in a unilateral overreach of its delegated authority. It’s so frustrating and I feel like we’re likely to see that again.” 

Jules poses for a portrait at their home in Pinellas Park, Florida, on April 15, 2023.Jules poses for a portrait at their home in Pinellas Park, Florida, on April 15, 2023.

Jules poses for a portrait at their home in Pinellas Park, Florida, on April 15, 2023. Octavio Jones for HuffPost

State lawmakers ultimately rejected the bill and nearly two dozen other anti-LGBTQ bills this spring. But the memo, Diaz said, is an example of the larger trend across Florida state agencies — many of which are stacked with DeSantis appointees who are sympathetic to his anti-trans agenda — creating policies or unofficial guidance that will help pave the way for other anti-trans legislation down the line.  

Under DeSantis, Florida has in many ways been a testing ground for the broader conservative movement to push some of the harshest anti-LGBTQ policies — from the memo to laws barring trans people from bathrooms and gender and sexuality from being discussed in public classrooms. 

“The right wing was using Florida as a petri dish for what would be possible across the country should they gain power in Washington, D.C., again,” said Brandon Wolf, the press secretary for the Human Rights Campaign. “I think we should believe them. It is a road map to making America a place like Florida, and allowing the federal government to do much of what we’ve seen governors like DeSantis and [Texas Gov. Greg] Abbott do across the country.” 

The reality unfolding in Florida today is just a microcosm of what the United States could look like if Donald Trump were to be elected president this November, according to a nearly 1,000-page document that lays out goals and recommendations for a conservative president. The “Mandate for Leadership: The Conservative Promise,” better known as Project 2025, draws upon many of the current state-level anti-LGBTQ+ laws and policies and expands them to the national stage by any means necessary. 

‘The Worst Of Everything We’ve Seen’ 

Authored by former Trump officials and dozens of right-wing organizations including the Heritage Foundation, nearly every page of Project 2025 details policies that would impact LGBTQ+ people — and there’s a particular focus on transgender people. On the very first page of the manifesto, Heritage Foundation President Kevin Roberts laments the “corruption” of the country “under the ruling and cultural elite” whose children “suffer the toxic normalization of transgenderism with drag queens and pornography invading their school libraries.” 

Many of the document’s suggestions are things that advocates say Trump could enact on his first day through a series of executive orders, like barring trans people from the military, and removing gender-affirming care and abortion from veteran health care policies. The document also calls for policies to redefine sex as “biological sex,”which not only effectively erases the legal recognition and protection of transgender people but goes against modern science.

Project 2025 also recommends rolling back Bostock v. Clayton County, the Supreme Court decision that protects LGBTQ+ people from employment discrimination; eliminating the promotion of gender-affirming care for minors nationwide; reinterpreting Title IX to permit discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity; and abolishing the Department of Education and returning “control of education to the states.” 

The project’s agenda encompasses a number of recommendations that target the very existence of LGBTQ+ people. 

Per Project 2025, a second Trump administration would erase the legal recognition of transgender identity — and go as far as to delete any mention of terms including gender identity, sexual orientation, diversity and abortion from every “federal rule, agency regulation, contract, grant, regulation, and piece of legislation to exist.” The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention would stop collecting data on gender identity, and the administration would block transgender students in public schools from using a name or pronoun that is different from what is listed on their birth certificates without the written permission of their parents.

Donald Trump … doesn’t have any real viewpoints of his own. He has no coherent policy, he has no coherent vision for this country. But he surrounds himself with people who tell him things he likes to hear.Anthony Michael Kreis, professor at Georgia State University

The conservative manifesto illustrates a vast agenda to “restore the family as the centerpiece of American life and protect our children.” In a chapter about the Department of Health and Human Services, former Trump HHS director Roger Severino, who drafted many of Trump’s anti-trans health policies, urges the incoming HHS secretary to “proudly state … that married men and women are the ideal, natural family structure.” 

The Trump campaign did not respond to HuffPost’s request for comment about Project 2025’s suggestions for LGBTQ+ Americans. However, there is reason to believe that Trump would closely follow the document’s recommendations if he wins a second term this fall, as he adopted 64% of the recommendations the Heritage Foundationlaid out in 2016. 

“Donald Trump is an empty vessel. He doesn’t have any real viewpoints of his own. He has no coherent policy, he has no coherent vision for this country,” said Anthony Michael Kreis, a professor of constitutional law at Georgia State University. “But he surrounds himself with people who tell him things he likes to hear. They are in fact the ones who are delegated the real responsibility.” 

Over the last three years, LGBTQ+ people have been the targets of a coordinated right-wing legislative attack that has resulted in restrictions on access to health care, sports and public spaces, and has led to a rise in anti-LGBTQ violence.

“[Project 2025] is both a run-of-the-mill vision for a Republican or anti-LGBT administration, plus the worst of everything we’ve seen in the states and an escalation of all of that,” said Chase Strangio, a lawyer and deputy director of ACLU’s transgender justice project. 

“In essence, [conservatives] conflate trans existence with criminality and that is a terrifying proposition because it rhetorically situates trans people as a threat to the well-being of society,” Strangio said. “When you’re dealing with any sort of government that is modeling itself after fascist government, you don’t want to be the group of people that is scapegoated into taking the blame for society’s problems.” 

Strangio pointed to how Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton has been targeting and surveilling transgender people over the last few years. Paxton has requested broad swaths of data about transgender people, from investigating families who seek gender-affirming care for their children for abuse to seeking data on transgender people who have changed their gender on their licenses.  Paxton tried to obtain even more information on transgender Texans after the state legislature banned gender-affirming care for minors, including asking for private medical records of young Texans seeking care in states like Georgia and Washington

Legal experts say the goal of Project 2025 is to make the country look like it did in the 1960s and 1970s, when Anita Bryant’s Save Our Children campaign responded to a burgeoning gay liberation movement by smearing gay people as child predators. 

“A lot of these hard-fought wins that LGBTQ people have secured for themselves are really hanging in the balance and are severely at risk of being diminished, if not abolished altogether,” Kreis said. 

And advocates worry about a ripple effect — that any push to roll back LGBTQ+ rights would intersect with broader privacy protections and civil liberties of people seeking abortions, immigrants, and people of color. 

“It’s not just the rights that we think about as directly being related to LGBTQ people. It’s these other related rights which are connected to how we think about the right to privacy and constitutional law,” Kreis said. “As soon as you can disrupt those, as the Project wants to do, it really jeopardizes everybody because the rights are just inexplicably intertwined.”

A Disregard For Process

Legal experts and LGBTQ+ advocates across the board agree that if Trump were to be elected president this fall, there would be few roadblocks to stop him from torching civil liberties for LGBTQ+ people. 

“We’ve seen from Trump’s last administration that he’s not concerned with precedent or the rule of law,” said Rodrigo Heng-Lehtinen, the executive director of the National Center for Transgender Equality. “I think there is every reason to be concerned that, if Trump wins the presidency next year, that administration is going to fail to recognize our humanity, and do everything they can to enforce all of [Project 2025].” 

And broadly speaking, Project 2025 suggests completely upending the normal functions of government. The document calls for the abolition of the administrative state — the authority of individual government agencies to draft and enforce their own rules outside of the legislative process — by dismantling entire departments within the federal government and replacing them with “an army of aligned, vetted, trained, and prepared conservatives.” 

With this kind of unchecked power, Kreis worries about the possibility of Trump gutting the procedures for creating rules and regulations within the federal health and education agencies which have previously established significant protections for LGBTQ+ people. Kreis imagines a nightmare scenario in which a Trump administration has full authority over rules in the HHS, which governs the distribution of medications like PrEP, an HIV prevention drug, and hormone replacement therapy. 

In some ways, it doesn’t really matter what [Trump] has the authority to do. It’s more a question of what he is willing to do and what will a court uphold.Chase Strangio, deputy director of ACLU’s transgender justice project

Trump attacked LGBTQ+ people during his presidency, often defying conventional presidential action. He made headlines when he essentially issued his ban on transgender people in the military via a tweet, and introduced hostile policies in nearly every agency in the federal government, Heng-Lehtinen said. 

The Trump administration also rarely paid much notice to the Administrative Procedure Act, a process to ensure that agencies follow certain standards for formal rulemaking and engage and inform the public about their actions, said Wolf of the Human Rights Campaign. For example, Trump tried to rescind the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program numerous times, even though his team faced enormous pushback in court — and nearly two-thirds of those legal disputes accused the administration of violating the APA.

“In some ways, it doesn’t really matter what [Trump] has the authority to do,” Strangio said. “It’s more a question of what he is willing to do and what will a court uphold.” 

And the courts may be willing to uphold a lot. The Supreme Court has a conservative majority, thanks in large part to Trump, who also reshaped the federal judiciary by appointing more than 200 judges, 40% of whom demonstrated an anti-LGBTQ bias. He could nominate even more new federal judges if he wins in November. And if Republicans control Congress, he may have an especially easy time pushing through his agenda.

Joe Biden is “the most pro-transgender president we’ve ever had,” Heng-Lehtinen said, but trans people across the country are still in limbo — unsure what the next election will mean for them and their basic rights. 

Jules in their backyard in Florida.Jules in their backyard in Florida.

Jules in their backyard in Florida. Octavio Jones for HuffPost

Jules is acutely aware of how stressful it is to live in a state where the legal landscape is always changing, and how dangerous it would be if the restrictions in their state were put into place nationwide. 

“What I’m witnessing, I think, is that fatigue is one of those things that has been killing people,” they said. “There’s a lot of people I know who need their meds and if it were easier to get them, they would probably be on them and still be alive. But there are so many barriers.” 

Wolf, who until last fall worked as the press secretary for Equality Florida, said he has seen firsthand how a government can wear down individuals and families, and is terrified by what would happen if the rest of the country reflected Florida’s current reality.

“The attack on the very rights for trans people to exist as themselves in this country is terrifying for me and heartbreaking because it is a blatant attempt to give trans and nonbinary folks in this country an ultimatum,” Wolf said. 

“Either you conform to this right-wing idea that there’s only one right way to be a human being or we will use everything at our disposal to push you out of society.”

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