Fresh off a humiliating and high-profile defeat, Donald Trump has done what any bona fide bigoted bully would do: He picked on gay people.
After failing to repeal Obamacare last week, the president succeeded in repealing an Obama-era executive order that helped protect gay people from employment discrimination. The order dates back to 2014, when President Obama – frustrated that Congress was doing nothing to protect gay workers from discrimination – prohibited the federal government from contracting with firms that discriminated based on sexual orientation and gender identity. Because this was an executive order, as opposed to legislation passed by Congress, it did not apply to all employers. However, it did apply to the huge number of firms that do business with the federal government.
In January, Trump reassured concerned LGBT-rights advocates that he had no plans to rescind this protection. On Monday, he technically lived up to his word – while at the same time taking a step toward seriously weakening what Obama did for LGBT workers.
You see, ten days after he signed that 2014 executive order, Obama signed another one, requiring firms doing business with the federal government to prove compliance with federal laws and executive orders. This was necessary to ensure companies were adhering to the rules about LGBT protections he had just implemented.
It is this order that President Trump rescinded this week – which means there’s now no requirement that firms certify they’re fair to gay employees. As Camilla Taylor, senior counsel at Lambda Legal, said, “It’s sending a message to these companies that the federal government simply doesn’t care whether or not they violate the law.”
Trump’s action does not completely eviscerate protections for LGBT people employed by federal contractors. What’s different is that now, LGBT people will have to take steps to enforce the law against the firms, as opposed to firms proving they’re not discriminating. So, the protections are still there, but the burden of coming forward has changed.
This matter is a presidential battlefield because Congress has abdicated its responsibilities and failed to change the federal law that protects workers from discrimination to include LGBT people. That law, Title VII, was passed in 1964, and prohibits discrimination against workers based on race, religion, national origin and sex. In many ways, it’s responsible for transforming the American workplace; by no means has it cured the workplace of all forms of discrimination, but it has opened up employment in myriad fields that had previously been closed to people based on these categories.
However, even though most people believe that LGBT people also should be protected from discrimination at work, Congress has failed to change the law to include sexual orientation and gender identity. There have been efforts to do so, but all have been stymied by recalcitrant legislators who are at best wary of more litigation – but who are more likely just bigots. So, today, in 2017, federal law does not state that it is illegal to discriminate against gay people.
That said, there are some protections for LGBT people at work: Many states prohibit discrimination, though not a majority of them, and not in regions of the country where such a prohibition is probably needed the most. And there’s a growing movement among federal judges to conclude that Title VII’s prohibition on sex discrimination also prohibits against discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity – because, after all, both are closely tied to sex and sex-based stereotypes.
But Obama’s actions in 2014 were needed because these are still patchwork efforts. They didn’t go as far as what Congress needs to do, but they bolstered LGBT workplace equality more than any president has in the past.
By weakening these protections, Trump has once again shown that people who’ve been fighting for equal rights can’t take Trump at his word that he’ll protect them – and that his loyalties truly lie with other businessmen like him.