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What a second Trump term could mean for LGBTQ people

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While President Trump doesn’t often comment publicly on queer or transgender issues, his administration has been anything but LGBTQ-friendly. Vice President Mike Pence has a long record of anti-LGBTQ lawmaking and rhetoric, and LGBTQ advocates have already called the Republican Party platform — a holdover from 2016, as the GOP did not write one for 2020 — one of the most anti-LGBTQ in the party’s history. A second Trump term could further turn the clock back for LGBTQ people.

Trans people have been a target of the Trump administration from the get-go. Almost immediately after Trump took office in 2017, the administration rolled back an Obama-era memo directing schools to protect trans students from discrimination. That July, Trump announced his decision to ban trans people from serving in the military. In May 2018, the administration went after trans prisoners, too, deciding that, in most cases, trans people should be housed according to their assigned sex at birth. This summer, the Department of Housing and Urban Development proposed a rule that would allow homeless shelters that receive federal funding to house trans people according to their birth-assigned sex.

Queer people have also been under attack. Though marriage equality is the law of the land, the White House has taken steps to limit or undo gay rights in several key policy areas such as lobbying to give religious adoption agencies the right to refuse same-sex couples. Most critical, perhaps, was the administration’s attack on the Affordable Care Act’s LGBTQ nondiscrimination protections in a rule released on June 12. Though it has been put on hold due to a federal court stay, the rule would allow doctors and insurance companies to refuse care to LGBTQ people.

Meanwhile, Trump has nominated three conservative Supreme Court justices during his presidency, but in a surprising turn of events, a recent major LGBTQ victory threw the administration for a loop: The Supreme Court decided in June that LGBTQ people are protected on the basis of sex under Title VII of the 1964 Civil Rights Act. The decision in Bostock v. Clayton County means that queer and trans people cannot be fired for being LGBTQ, and the ruling could end up as precedent for expanding rights into other issue areas such as education and health care.

Still, this likely won’t stop conservatives from trying to whittle away and build in carveouts to the legal protections LGBTQ people currently have. It would be similar to the approach taken by religious conservatives with regard to Roe v. Wade — passing anti-abortion legislation at the state level in the hope that related cases work their way back to the Supreme Court.

According to activists, conservatives will likely try to attack across three different fronts in their efforts to chip away at LGBTQ rights: by continuing to reshape the courts, by attacking health care access, and by continuing to limit immigration and asylum by LGBTQ people fleeing violence in other countries.

The courts are key to queer and trans rights

If elected president, former Vice President Joe Biden has promised to immediately reverse the military ban and reissue an Obama-era guideline allowing trans students to use the correct bathroom. This would effectively end litigation in the military ban cases and change the complexion of the bathroom cases.

However, a second Trump term would mean more anti-LGBTQ federal judges appointed, a Supreme Court justice (maybe even two), and an escalation in the legal arguments against trans rights, legal advocates say.

The bulk of Trump’s anti-LGBTQ actions have come through administrative rules, most of which have been challenged in federal court. Because of this, Trump’s control over federal policy has been solidified by appointing conservative judges. As of July, 194 of the 792 active federal judges were appointed by Trump — that’s a quarter of the federal judiciary — according to Pew Research data. Many of them were either previously anti-LGBTQ activists or who openly express anti-LGBTQ sentiments.

Several have already had an impact on pending legal battles. Earlier this year, Fifth Circuit Judge Kyle Duncan infamously ruled that it is necessary for a court to misgender a trans plaintiff whose case he was overseeing, a decision not in line with precedents in other federal courts.

And right now, there are several legal cases snaking their way through the federal court system that could end badly for LGBTQ people if put in front of a Trump-appointed judge. These include several lawsuits against the transgender military ban, student suits seeking access to school bathrooms according to their gender identity, and California v. Texas, which is set to decide whether religious entities can legally deny adoption services to gay parents. It will be heard by the court on November 4, just a day after Election Day.

These cases could eventually land in front of the Supreme Court, which is its own issue, now that Republicans in the Senate are all but set to confirm conservative Judge Amy Coney Barrett to the Court upon Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg’s death.

“Certainly, at least one more Supreme Court appointment would inflict devastating damage on the transgender community that would last for decades to come,” Shannon Minter, an attorney at the National Center for Lesbian Rights, told Vox in August. “It would be something close to closing the courtroom doors on our foreseeable future.”

One way for conservatives to somewhat relitigate and chip away at even landmark decisions is through a change in legal strategy. Throughout its first term, the Trump administration argued in court that trans people are not and should not be protected under current sex discrimination laws. This was the basis for several administrative rules rolling back the rights of trans people in health care, in homeless shelters, and in education. However, Bostock turned that argument on its head.

According to Chase Strangio, an attorney at the American Civil Liberties Union, the administration has now begun to argue more explicitly that federal sex discrimination law protects cis people from sharing spaces with trans people. It’s a similar tack to the fringe argument that anti-LGBTQ legal groups have long tried — that cis people have a constitutional right not to share locker rooms, bathrooms, and other gendered spaces with trans people.

For example, in a statement to the court in a case challenging Connecticut’s school sports transgender inclusion policy earlier this year, the administration argued that trans people are not protected under Title IX, which protects people on the basis of sex in education. In a more recent post-Bostock filing in a nearly identical case challenging Idaho’s ban on trans girls participating in girls’ school sports, the administration took a different angle, arguing that Title IX entitles cisgender people protection from sharing spaces and activities with trans people. That policy shift, Strangio told Vox, would be a scary portent for a second Trump term.

Because everything is interconnected, the key to making Trump’s strategy work, say Minter and Strangio, would be more Trump appointees to the already Trump-stacked federal judiciary. The lower court judges would have significant power to shape LGBTQ cases as they move through the federal court system.

“My greatest fear is for a judicial action that locates [anti-trans] rights in the Constitution that we couldn’t undo with a new president in the future,” said Strangio. “You get some horrible constitutional ruling that then authorizes discrimination in a host of contexts because trans people are so abhorrent that you have a constitutional right not to share space with them.”

Health care is likely the next big fight for LGBTQ people

Even before the pandemic, health care was going to loom large over this election cycle. Republicans in Congress have repeatedly tried to repeal the Affordable Care Act during Trump’s term. The administration even submitted a brief to the Supreme Court recently arguing that the law should be thrown out.

The ACA was a landmark piece of health care legislation for Americans — particularly so for LGBTQ people. Under an HHS rule established by the Obama administration in 2016, the bill banned health care discrimination against LGBTQ people, but just as key for queer communities were protections for coverage of preexisting conditions. Before the law was passed, anyone diagnosed with gender dysphoria or HIV/AIDS could legally be excluded from health insurance coverage, and transition care could be legally excluded from any insurance plans.

“I can’t think of a more important issue for transgender people than access to health care, because if we’re not able to access transition-related care, it’s just impossible to have a meaningful, authentic life,” said Minter.

Should the administration succeed at the Supreme Court in California v. Texas, slated to be heard this fall, people could again be subject to wholesale exclusion from insurance coverage. But even if the law is preserved in some form, the administration has already worked to limit LGBTQ access to health care.

In mid-June, just days before the Bostock decision came down, the administration finalized a rule clarifying that LGBTQ people are not entitled to sex-based protections under the ACA, effectively rolling back the Obama-era rule saying the opposite. The rule, as written, would allow insurance companies to once again have blanket exclusions on coverage of transition-related procedures and they could once again deny coverage of health care that doesn’t comport to a person’s legal gender, meaning a trans man could be denied coverage for gynecological care.

The rule would also have had a significant impact on lesbian, gay, and bisexual cisgender people in the US by allowing doctors, health care providers, and insurance companies to deny care or coverage to cis queer people.

“We know LGBTQ people face discrimination in health care,” David Stacy, who leads the federal policy team at the Human Rights Campaign, told Vox. “It can be overt discrimination, but it can also be more subtle discrimination.”

In August, however, a federal judge issued a stay on the rule’s implementation while the case is litigated, saying that the rule likely violates Bostock and that HHS failed to reconsider this after the Supreme Court’s decision.

But despite the stay, there are still potential avenues a second-term Trump administration could take to attack trans health care access in particular. Minter suggested that, depending on the makeup of Congress, the administration could take steps to ban transition-related care from Medicaid coverage, try to reinstate a Medicare exclusion that existed prior to 2016, or even try to institute a Food and Drug Administration ban on puberty blockers for trans adolescents. The administration could also use executive action to end transition care offered through Veterans Affairs.

“They’ll try to cut off access to health care for trans people any way they can,” said Minter. “They can do a lot of damage on the health care front. It would be, in my opinion, probably the single most devastating impact on the trans community.”

Immigration rights are a life-and-death issue for LGBTQ people

LGBTQ issues like health care and the military ban frequently take center stage when discussing the administration’s record, but perhaps nothing is as life and death for queer and trans people as immigration and asylum policies.

In late 2018, 31-year-old trans woman Camila Díaz Córdova fled her native El Salvador, fearing for her life. She reportedly made her way to the US with a migrant caravan and attempted to apply for asylum, only to be denied and deported back to her home country. In late January 2019, she was murdered by three police officers.

It’s a problem that will likely only worsen in a Trump second term. “The rules of asylum are completely changing,” Bamby Salcedo, founder of the Trans Latina Coalition, told Vox. “Through that process, a lot of people are being excluded. This is something that will definitely impact trans women.”

Over the last three and a half years, the Trump administration has made it increasingly difficult for those fleeing gender-based violence to obtain asylum in the United States. In November 2018, Trump tightened immigration rules which restricted asylum to anyone who first passed through Mexico to arrive at the US southern border. And this June, the Department of Homeland Security proposed a new rule that would allow immigration officials to dismiss asylum seekers’ applications as “frivolous” without a hearing.

As explained by Vox’s Nicole Narea, the proposed rule is part of a larger election-year push against immigration in general. Using the pandemic as an excuse, Trump has closed the border with Mexico, started quickly deporting asylum seekers who show up at the southern border, and issued a temporary ban on issuing new green cards.

All of these restrictions come at a real cost for trans people, especially trans women, in Central America. There is an epidemic of violence against trans women of color throughout the Americas, but it is acutely felt in Central America. According to a report by Trans Murder Monitoring, at least 258 trans or gender-diverse people were murdered in Latin America between October 2018 and September 2019.

“The new asylum regulations that Trump has already proposed, if they were finalized, it will be devastating for LGBT asylum seekers. And they’ll effectively just shut the door to asylum,” said Minter.

The public comment period ended on July 15 and the rule could be finalized before Election Day. However, should Democrats retake the Senate and White House, they’ll be able to override any administration rules issued within 60 legislative days of the new Congress taking office via the Congressional Review Act.

Salcedo said that the possibility that Biden could win the presidency gives her hope — not just for the immigration and asylum system, but that other trans-related policies could improve in short order. “I am hopeful that, you know, the new administration will revert all of those policies that have attempted to come into effect,” she said. “I’m hopeful that there’s tangible and institutional changes that are going to happen. And I firmly believe that that could become a reality.”


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Trump’s misleading tweet about changing your vote, briefly explained

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Searches for changing one’s vote did not trend following the recent presidential debate, and just a few states appear to have processes for changing an early vote. But that didn’t stop President Trump from wrongly saying otherwise on Tuesday.

In early morning posts, the president falsely claimed on Twitter and Facebook that many people had Googled “Can I change my vote?” after the second presidential debate and said those searching wanted to change their vote over to him. Trump also wrongly claimed that most states have a mechanism for changing one’s vote. Actually, just a few states appear to have the ability, and it’s rarely used.

Twitter did not attach a label to Trump’s recent tweet.
Twitter

Trump’s claim about what was trending on Google after the debate doesn’t hold up. Searches for changing one’s vote were not among Google’s top trending searches for the day of the debate (October 22) or the day after. Searches for “Can I change my vote?” did increase slightly around the time of the debate, but there is no way to know whether the bump was related to the debate or whether the people searching were doing so in support of Trump.

It was only after Trump’s posts that searches about changing your vote spiked significantly. It’s worth noting that people were also searching for “Can I change my vote?” during a similar period before the 2016 presidential election.

Google declined to comment on the accuracy of Trump’s post.

Trump also claimed that these results indicate that most of the people who were searching for how to change their vote support him. But the Google Trends tool for the searches he mentioned does not provide that specific information.

Perhaps the most egregiously false claim in Trump’s recent posts is about “most states” having processes for changing your early vote. In fact, only a few states have such processes, and they can come with certain conditions. For instance, in Michigan, voters who vote absentee can ask for a new ballot by mail or in person until the day before the election.

The Center for Election Innovation’s David Becker told the Associated Press that changing one’s vote is “extremely rare.” Becker explained, “It’s hard enough to get people to vote once — it’s highly unlikely anybody will go through this process twice.”

Trump’s post on Facebook was accompanied by a link to Facebook’s Voting Information Center.
Facebook

At the time of publication, Trump’s false claims had drawn about 84,000 and 187,000 “Likes” on Twitter and Facebook, respectively. Trump’s posts accelerated searches about changing your vote in places like the swing state of Florida, where changing one’s vote after casting it is not possible. Those numbers are a reminder of the president’s capacity to spread misinformation quickly.

On Facebook, the president’s post came with a label directing people to Facebook’s Voting Information Center, but no fact-checking label. Twitter had no annotation on the president’s post. Neither company responded to a request for comment.

That Trump is willing to spread misinformation to benefit himself and his campaign isn’t a surprise. He does that a lot. Still, just days before a presidential election in which millions have already voted, this latest episode demonstrates that the president has no qualms about using false claims about voting to cause confusion and sow doubt in the electoral process.

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Nearly 6,000 civilian casualties in Afghanistan so far this year

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From January to September, 5,939 civilians – 2,117 people killed and 3,822 wounded – were casualties of the fighting, the UN says.

Nearly 6,000 Afghan civilians were killed or wounded in the first nine months of the year as heavy fighting between government forces and Taliban fighters rages on despite efforts to find peace, the United Nations has said.

From January to September, there were 5,939 civilian casualties in the fighting – 2,117 people killed and 3,822 wounded, the UN Assistance Mission in Afghanistan (UNAMA) said in a quarterly report on Tuesday.

“High levels of violence continue with a devastating impact on civilians, with Afghanistan remaining among the deadliest places in the world to be a civilian,” the report said.

Civilian casualties were 30 percent lower than in the same period last year but UNAMA said violence has failed to slow since the beginning of talks between government negotiators and the Taliban that began in Qatar’s capital, Doha, last month.

An injured girl receives treatment at a hospital after an attack in Khost province [Anwarullah/Reuters]

The Taliban was responsible for 45 percent of civilian casualties while government troops caused 23 percent, it said. United States-led international forces were responsible for two percent.

Most of the remainder occurred in crossfire, or were caused by ISIL (ISIS) or “undetermined” anti-government or pro-government elements, according to the report.

Ground fighting caused the most casualties followed by suicide and roadside bomb attacks, targeted killings by the Taliban and air raids by Afghan troops, the UN mission said.

Fighting has sharply increased in several parts of the country in recent weeks as government negotiators and the Taliban have failed to make progress in the peace talks.

At least 24 people , mostly teens, were killed in a suicide bomb attack at an education centre in Kabul [Mohammad Ismail/Reuters]

The Taliban has been fighting the Afghan government since it was toppled from power in a US-led invasion in 2001.

Washington blamed the then-Taliban rulers for harbouring al-Qaeda leaders, including Osama bin Laden. Al-Qaeda was accused of plotting the 9/11 attacks.

Calls for urgent reduction of violence

Meanwhile, the US envoy for Afghanistan, Zalmay Khalilzad, said on Tuesday that the level of violence in the country was still too high and the Kabul government and Taliban fighters must work harder towards forging a ceasefire at the Doha talks.

Khalilzad made the comments before heading to the Qatari capital to hold meetings with the two sides.

“I return to the region disappointed that despite commitments to lower violence, it has not happened. The window to achieve a political settlement will not stay open forever,” he said in a tweet.

There needs to be “an agreement on a reduction of violence leading to a permanent and comprehensive ceasefire”, added Khalilzad.

A deal in February between the US and the Taliban paved the way for foreign forces to leave Afghanistan by May 2021 in exchange for counterterrorism guarantees from the Taliban, which agreed to sit with the Afghan government to negotiate a permanent ceasefire and a power-sharing formula.

But progress at the intra-Afghan talks has been slow since their start in mid-September and diplomats and officials have warned that rising violence back home is sapping trust.

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Classic toy tie-up: Etch A Sketch maker to acquire Rubik’s Cube

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Spin Master Corp., the company behind the Etch A Sketch and Paw Patrol brands, has agreed to acquire Rubik’s Brand Ltd. for about $50 million, tying together two of the world’s most iconic toy brands.

The merger comes at a boom time for classic toymakers, as parents turn to familiar products to entertain kids stuck in lockdown. Like sales of Uno, Monopoly and Barbie dolls, Rubik’s Cube purchases have spiked during the pandemic, according to the puzzle maker’s chief executive officer, Christoph Bettin. He expects sales to jump 15% to 20% in 2020, compared with a normal year, when people purchase between 5 million and 10 million cubes.

By acquiring Rubik’s, Toronto-based Spin Master can better compete with its larger rivals, Hasbro Inc. and Mattel Inc. All three companies have pivoted to become less reliant on actual product sales, diversifying into television shows, films and broader entertainment properties based on their toys. Spin Master CEO Anton Rabie said he wouldn’t rule out films or TV shows based on Rubik’s Cubes, but he was focused for now on creating more cube-solving competitions and crossmarketing it with the company’s other products, like the Perplexus.

“Whoever you are, it really has a broad appeal from a consumer standpoint,” Rabie said in an interview. “It’s actually going to become the crown jewel; it will be the most important part of our portfolio worldwide.”

Hungarian inventor Erno Rubik created the Rubik’s Cube in 1974, a solid block featuring squares with colored stickers that users could twist and turn without it falling apart. It gained popularity in the 1980s and has remained one of the best-selling toys of all time, spawning spinoff versions, international competitions of puzzle solvers, books and documentaries.

The toy has been particularly well-suited to pandemic conditions. During lockdowns, parents have sought to give kids puzzles that boost problem-solving skills useful in math and science careers. Normally, toys tied to major film franchises are among the most popular products headed into the holidays, but studios have delayed the release of major new movies because of coronavirus. So classic products are experiencing a mini-renaissance.

“The whole pandemic has really increased games and puzzles,” Rabie said. “But whether the pandemic existed or didn’t exist, we’d still buy Rubik’s. It’s had such steady sales for decades.”

Rubik’s CEO Bettin said it was the right time to sell the company, with the founding families behind it ready to move on. London-based Rubik’s Brand was formed out of a partnership between Erno Rubik and the late entrepreneur Tom Kremer, while private equity firm Bancroft Investment holds a minority stake in the company.

Early on, Bettin felt Spin Master was the right home for the puzzle toy, he said. Spin Master, which was started by a group of three friends in 1994, has expanded through the purchase of well-known brands, including Erector sets and Etch A Sketch. Rabie says he works to honor the “legacy” of those products, which Bettin cited as a key reason to sell the brand to Spin Master over larger companies that were interested.

“It was important for us to not be lost in the crowd, and to be sufficiently important and cared for,” Bettin said. “And there’s a balance between being with someone large enough to invest, and agile enough to ensure you are key part of their plans.”

Spin Master won’t own Rubik’s Cubes in time for the holiday season – the transaction is expected to close on Jan. 4. At that time, the company will move Rubik’s operations from a small office in London’s Notting Hill neighborhood to Spin Master’s new games operations center in Long Island.

Some of Rubik’s Brand’s 10 employees will be part of the transition, but they won’t stay permanently, Bettin said.

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