The Trump White House has issued a directive giving federal contractors free range to discriminate against LGBT+ people.
There is no federal law banning discrimination based on sexual orientation or gender identity, but former President Barack Obama signed an executive order that required all federal contractors to abide by LGBT+ anti-discrimination principles.
However, a broad new directive issued on Friday effectively guts the power to sanction any federal contractor that discriminated based on their religious beliefs.
The document, issued by the Department of Labor, directly takes aim at the existing provisions that “prohibit federal contractors and subcontractors from discriminating on the basis of race, color, religion, sex, sexual orientation, gender identity, national origin, disability, or status as a protected veteran.”
It cites the recent US Supreme Court ruling in favour of a baker who turned away a gay couple as
It states: “Recent court decisions have addressed the broad freedoms and anti-discrimination protections that must be afforded religion-exercising organizations and individuals under the United States Constitution and federal law. See, e.g., Masterpiece Cakeshop)”
It directs Office of Federal Contract Compliance Programs employees: “Staff are instructed to take these legal developments into account in all their relevant activities, including when providing compliance assistance, processing complaints, and enforcing the requirements of [the previous executive order]
“Staff should bear in mind that… they cannot act in a manner that passes judgment upon or presupposes the illegitimacy of religious beliefs and practices and must proceed in a manner neutral toward and tolerant of … religious beliefs.
“They cannot condition the availability of [opportunities] upon a recipient’s willingness to surrender his [ or her] religiously impelled status.
“They must respect the right of religious people and institutions … to practice their faith without fear of discrimination or retaliation by the Federal Government.”
LGBT+ groups say the provision is tantamount to enforcing discrimination against LGBT+ people, as action against any religious contractor that discriminates is now effectively impossible.
David Stacy, Human Rights Campaign’s Government Affairs Director, said: “This is another attempt by the Trump-Pence Administration to implement a license to discriminate against LGBTQ people by providing unsound guidance in implementing Obama-era regulations.
“The erroneous application of the Supreme Court’s narrow ruling in Masterpiece and recent Trump executive orders is meant to aggressively marginalize hardworking Americans because of their sexual orientation and/or gender identity.
“The American people will not tolerate discrimination, and LGBTQ people will not be erased.”
Harper Jean Tobin, director of policy at the National Center for Transgender Equality, added: “This is an attempt to encourage businesses to take taxpayer dollars and then fire people for being transgender.
“Religious organizations have ample protections under federal law, but they are not allowed to use federal money to discriminate against people.
“The language of this directive is so broad and so vague because it is part of a long line of attempts by this administration to sow confusion and encourage any employer to act on their worst prejudices. No employer should be allowed to use taxpayer dollars to fire someone because of who they are.”
The National Center for Transgender Equality notes that the Department of Labor also appears to have erased information concerning frequently asked questions about nondiscrimination protections for LGBT+ people from its website.
The site had made clear that religious contractors were not exempt from rules barring discrimination against an employee “on the basis of race, color, sex, sexual orientation, gender identity, or national origin.”