USDA issues ‘religious advisory’ that okays anti-LGBTQ speech by employees

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The United States Department of Agriculture has posted a “religious advisory” on their website that amounts to a blatant license to discriminate against LGBTQ people. In fact, it’s so specific the only topics specifically mentioned in the memo are “same-sex marriage, gender identity, and sexual morality.”

The Trump administration has systematically tried to destroy nondiscrimination protections for LGBTQ people throughout the government. Within hours of his inauguration, websites were being scrubbed of all mentions of LGBTQ rights.

The website’s Q&A about “First Amendment and Religious Beliefs” asks the question, “Does the Secretary’s First Amendment Policy encompass speech regarding same-sex marriage, gender identity, and sexual morality?”

Opinions about same-sex marriage, gender identity, and sexual morality are all matters of public importance. Moreover, people often have different perspectives on these topics, which are sometimes informed by their religious beliefs, and feel the need to discuss them. USDA respects the First Amendment rights of USDA personnel, as well as non-USDA personnel working at facilities inspected by USDA, to share their varying viewpoints on these topics, whether through oral discussion, the display or distribution of literature, or other means.

Last month, the Department of Justice filed a brief that sided with an anti-gay baker and argued that states do not have the same interest in fighting antigay discrimination that they have fighting racial discrimination. The Solicitor General has petitioned for time to argue the case in front of the Supreme Court.

Since Trump’s inauguration, the White House website has removed reference to LGBT issues and policies from the previous administration, and reversed an Obama-era executive order permitting trans students to use school facilities most closely aligning with their gender identities.

Trump’s Attorney General, Jeff Sessions, reversed an Obama-era policy that protected trans employees from discrimination under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. Trump has also attempted to ban transgender people from the military, but a federal judge put that order on hold.

“If the USDA wants to create workplaces where employees can bring their best selves to work, that means protecting all employees – including LGBTQ people – from discrimination, not placing targets on the backs of marginalized communities,” said Sarah Kate Ellis, President and CEO of GLAAD.

“This new policy is a solution in search of a problem and can be used as a license to discriminate against others. From the Department of Agriculture to the Department of Justice, up to the Oval Office, President Trump and his administration are working around the clock to dismantle LGBTQ workplace protections and promote their agenda of hate.”

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