Who Is?
S3 E15

Who Is Roger Severino? Narrated by Pat Regan

Roger Severino is the devout Catholic conservative mastermind behind the Trump administration’s efforts to treat trans Americans as outsiders, denying them federal recognition, and civil rights protections.

Severino was born sometime in the mid-‘70s to Colombian immigrants and grew up in Los Angeles. Growing up in a Spanish-speaking family, Severino faced a ton of discrimination for something he couldn’t help: being Latino. As a kid, he was often the victim of racism, and when he was attending high school, he says his teachers were skeptical that a Latino kid could take honors classes, which he did.
Severino overcame the bigotry, and went on to Harvard’s School of Law, graduating in 2002 with a JD. "I did experience discrimination as a child. And that leaves a lasting impression,” he said, in the midst of setting up what was seemingly a trans-discrimination task force.

From Harvard, Severino got right to on-the-job work experience making LGBTQ+ Americans lives harder. Severino worked as a legal
council for the Becket Fund, a law firm that focuses on religious liberty. At the firm, he served as one of the main lawyers in a case he won that banned same-sex couples from marrying in Maryland.

After some time with the Department of Justice, Severino went on to work as Director of the DeVos Center for Religion and Civil Society at the Heritage Foundation. The Heritage Foundation is a conservative think tank and the branch Severino worked for was funded by Michigan’s finest: the DeVos family.

Trump quietly tapped Severino as the Director of the Office for Civil Rights at the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services in March of 2017. And ever since he took the post, the HHS, ostensibly responsible for the health and well-being of all Americans, has transformed into a hub for pro-life, anti-LGBTQ+ devout Christians.

Severino, who is supposed to be cracking down on discrimination, is instead enabling it. In a serious position of power, what used to just be ideology now has the potential of becoming policy. He’s overseeing the administration’s efforts to define trans people “out of existence” as the New York Times put it.

According to a memo seen by the New York Times, the HHS proposed that “Sex means a person’s status as male or female based on immutable biological traits identifiable by or before birth. The sex listed on a person’s birth certificate, as originally issued, shall constitute definitive proof of a person’s sex unless rebutted by reliable genetic evidence.” This new proposed definition goes against what decades of science have shown us and also ignores the already medically subscribed to consensus on sex- that it goes beyond just what your classification is on your birth certificate, genitals, or the chromosomal makeup of your body.

Defining gender as biological and defined at birth would impact an estimated 1.4 million Americans.

If the HHS is successful in its effort to create an outcast group of people in America, this new policy could strip away the few protections trans Americans have been granted. It could allow health care providers to refuse working with patients, trans Americans could be denied jobs, housing and schools could feel even more empowered to discriminate against trans children.