Transgender people are no longer protected by federal civil rights laws banning workplace discrimination, Attorney General Jeff Sessions said Thursday.
In a memo to federal prosecutors, Sessions wrote that it is a matter of "law, not policy," that the 1964 Civil Rights Act does not extend to gender identity. The act outlaws discrimination based on race, color, religion, sex or national origin.
The Obama administration ruled that the word "sex" applies to gender identity under civil rights laws.
But Sessions wrote Thursday that the word "sex" applies only to "biologically male or female" persons. He said U.S. attorneys should stay neutral in federal civil rights cases involving workplace discrimination.
But Sessions said this did not open the door to discrimination.
"The Justice Department must and will continue to affirm the dignity of all people, including transgender individuals," he said.
Civil rights activists called Sessions' decision another example of Trump administration indifference toward lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender rights.
"Today marks another low point for the Department of Justice, which has been cruelly consistent in its hostility towards the LGBT community and in particular its inability to treat transgender people with basic dignity and respect," James Esseks of the American Civil Liberties Union said.
The Trump White House has also proposed banning transgenders from serving in the U.S. military and overturned Obama administration guidance allowing students to use public school restrooms that correspond with their gender identity.