News (USA)

White House: Worker protections will stay, doesn’t rule out religious exemptions

Donald Trump LGBT flag
Photo: AP

The White House said on Monday that they will keep in place former president Barack Obama’s executive order banning anti-LGBTQ discrimination among federal contractors.

“President Trump continues to be respectful and supportive of L.G.B.T.Q. rights, just as he was throughout the election,” the statement reads. “The president is proud to have been the first ever G.O.P. nominee to mention the L.G.B.T.Q. community in his nomination acceptance speech, pledging then to protect the community from violence and oppression. The executive order signed in 2014, which protects employees from anti-LGBTQ workplace discrimination while working for federal contractors, will remain intact at the direction of President Donald J. Trump.”

It goes on to say that the decision to keep the executive order came from Trump himself, who campaigned in part on his intention of repealing many of Obama’s orders.

Trump promised to “protect our LGBTQ citizens from the violence and oppression of a hateful, foreign ideology” during his speech at the 2016 Republican National Convention.

The White House statement came in response to growing concerns after LGBTQ Nation reporting that sources close to the situation, speaking on the condition of anonymity, were declaring that an executive order allowing for discrimination against the LGBTQ community based on religious beliefs was coming soon, perhaps this week.

Our reporting included a statement of concern from the Human Rights Campaign. Press Secretary Sean Spicer declined to answer when questioned about the situation by a reporter from the Washington Blade, and a White House spokesperson told NBC News that such an order “isn’t the plan at this time.”

Yet there are still reasons to be concerned, as Trump could still sign an executive order carving out a religious exemption which would allow for discrimination, while still keeping Obama’s order in place.

There are also real fears over the First Amendment Defense Act, which would similarly allow for discrimination so long as those doing the discriminating cite a religious belief as the cause of their actions. It has been reported that it will soon be introduced to Congress and Trump has already pledged he would sign it if it were to pass. His pick for Attorney General, Sen. Jeff Sessions also recently defended the proposed legislation.

Advocacy groups, aware of this possibility, and citing concern of the travel ban on seven Muslim majority countries, remain unimpressed.

HRC President Chad Griffin said Trump is setting a low bar by taking credit for not overturning the actions of his predecessor, he told The New York Times.

“L.G.B.T.Q. refugees, immigrants, Muslims and women are scared today, and with good reason,” Griffin added. “Donald Trump has done nothing but undermine equality since he set foot in The White House.”

“Today’s statement says only that President Trump does not intend to take the extreme step of abolishing existing anti-discrimination protections for federal employees and contractors, some of which have been in place for nearly twenty years,” said Kate Kendell, Executive Director at The National Center for Lesbian Rights. “That is not a step forward. We remain concerned by reports that the President intends to issue an order creating new religious exemptions that will permit discrimination against LGBT people and others. This is also a distraction from the imminent announcement of a Supreme Court nominee, which is the most important issue for our community. The Senate must reject any nominee who will turn back the clock on our nation’s commitment to the equality and freedom of LGBT people, including the fundamental right to marry and to be treated equally to other married couples.”

A statement from the National Center for Transgender Equality points out that, “The White House did not rule out other actions to promote discrimination, such as allowing individual federal employees or federal grantees to refuse assistance to LGBT people or their families.”

“The fact that proactively discriminating against transgender and other LGBT people was even being discussed in the White House is shameful, as is the fact that there are other options still on the table to target LGBT Americans,” said NCTE Executive Director Mara Keisling. “This limited retreat certainly does not make President Trump an ally to transgender Americans. He is certainly not an ally to transgender refugees, transgender Muslims, or transgender people who depend on the Affordable Care Act or Planned Parenthood. We will continue to fight any attempt to target any community in this country.”

The American Civil Liberties Union mirrored these concerns.

“Actions speak louder than words. President Trump has surrounded himself with a vice president and cabinet members who have repeatedly sought to sanction discrimination against LGBT people in the name of religion, and nothing in the White House’s statement makes clear that these efforts are behind us. LGBT immigrants, refugees, Muslims, and women have already come under attack by this administration. If Donald Trump is serious about being an ally to the LGBT community, it starts with abandoning an agenda driven by fear and prejudice,” American Civil Liberties Union LGBT Project Director James Esseks said in a statement.

“Donald Trump is no friend to the LGBTQ community — regardless of what he or the White House leakers may be suggesting in the media,” said Rea Carey, Executive Director, National LGBTQ Task Force Action Fund. “We need look no further than his extremist anti-LGBTQ Vice President Pence and Cabinet picks to see the real agenda at play. The truth is he has been playing deeply harmful games with LGBTQ people’s lives throughout his campaign and every single day of his days-old presidency.”

There are rumors circulating that Vice President Mike Pence, who backed a religious freedom law in Indiana, has been pushing for the anti-LGBTQ executive order, while Trump’s son-in-law and senior adviser Jared Kushner is said to be pushing back against it.

A recent report by Vanity Fair suggests that Kushner is losing influence in a White House dominated by far-right voices, and that he is aware and upset by the situation.

In addition to pledging support for FADA, Trump has come out against same-sex marriage, said he wants to appoint judges in the mold of the late Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia, who was no friend to the LGBTQ community, and has filled his administration with individuals whose records are anything but supportive.

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