Trump uses his last few weeks in office to target LGBTQ workers

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Trump's Department of Labor just issued a final rule that would give employers room to discriminate against the LGBTQ community.

With only a few weeks left in office for Donald Trump, the Department of Labor on Monday issued a final rule that broadens federal contractors' ability to qualify for religious exemptions in hiring, harming protections for LGBTQ workers in the process. The rule goes into effect on Jan. 8, just a few days before President-elect Joe Biden is set to be sworn in.

The rule states it will allow contractors' "autonomy to hire employees who will further their religious missions." In effect, it will weaken the nondiscrimination protections issued in an executive order from former President Barack Obama in 2014.

Obama's order banned discrimination against LGBTQ workers. Although it did include a religious exemption, federal contractors still had to comply with nondiscrimination protections. But The Trump rule broadens religious exemptions in a way that undermines those protections for LGBTQ people.

More than 100 religious leaders 17 faith-based organizations signed a letter opposing the Trump rule in September of last year.

"Religion should never be used as a weapon to exclude and discriminate," leaders and organizations wrote in a letter to the Office of Federal Contract Compliance Programs.

Monday's rule comes a few months after the Supreme Court decided that LGBTQ people were included under employment protections in Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. The administration has ignored the June decision, Bostock v. Clayton County, in many ways. The Department of Education, for example, said in August that it would only apply parts of the landmark ruling to its decisions regarding student's discrimination complaints.

Sasha Buchert, senior attorney at Lambda Legal, an organization focused on advancing LGBTQ rights, said, "If allowed to stand, the rule would undermine Bostock by inviting federally funded contractors to request a religious exemption from complying with the nondiscrimination provisions prohibiting discrimination against LGBTQ workers who work for federal contractors."

She added:

[The rule] seeks to allow almost any entity to claim a religious exemption that would allow a federal contractor to claim a right to fire a person, deny health benefits or other forms of discriminatory action for marrying a same-sex partner, or to fire an employee, deny health benefits or other forms of discriminatory action against an applicant or employee who is or comes out as transgender, or who the employer or would-be employer discovers is transgender, for living in accordance with their gender identity.

According to a 2020 study that included surveys of 1,528 LGBTQ adults, 36% of LGBTQ respondents said that they experienced discrimination in the workplace in the past year. There are 4.1 million contract employees who work for the federal government.

Maggie Siddiqi, the director of the faith and progressive policy initiative at the Center for American Progress, stated in response to the final rule, "This rule is the latest effort by the Trump administration to undermine nondiscrimination protections for LGBTQ people, religious minorities, and women."

Siddiqi continued, "It provides an exemption to federal contractors, which employ 1 in 5 American workers, that will allow them to fire or hire employees in the name of religion."

She urged Biden to reverse the rule once he takes office.

Published with permission of The American Independent Foundation.