Trump’s administration has expanded a policy that lets US federal contractors discriminate against LGBT+ employees and others who offend their religious beliefs.
LGBT+ organizations said the new rule takes a ‘sledgehammer to federal nondiscrimination protections’.
The new rule came in as President Donald Trump has just 43 days until he leaves office on 20 January. President-elect Joe Biden has vowed to reverse many of his discriminatory policies and to advance LGBT+ rights when he takes office.
Until now, only faith-based, nonprofit organizations were allowed to discriminate in their employment practices. The rule was intended to let them select members of their own faith as employees.
But the new rule from the US Department of Labor’s Office of Federal Contract Compliance Programs goes much further. It expands the license to discriminate to all federal contractors – including for-profit companies – who can cite their religious belief.
In a statement, US Secretary of Labor Eugene Scalia said: ‘Religious organizations should not have to fear that acceptance of a federal contract or subcontract will require them to abandon their religious character or identity.’
‘Hard to overstate the harm’
However LGBT+ campaigners warned the rule was extremely harmful.
Jennifer Pizer, law and policy director at LGBT+ organization Lambda Legal, said:
‘It is hard to overstate the harm that the Office of Federal Contract Compliance Programs is visiting on LGBTQ people, women, religious minorities, and others with the sledgehammer it is taking to federal nondiscrimination protections.
‘For nearly 80 years, it has been a core American principle that seeking and receiving federal tax dollars to do work for the American people means promising not to discriminate against one’s own workers with those funds.
‘This new rule uses religion to create an essentially limitless exemption allowing taxpayer-funded contractors to impose their religious beliefs on their employees without regard to the resulting harms, such as unfair job terms, invasive proselytizing and other harassment that make job settings unbearable for workers targeted on religious grounds.
‘The Department of Labor has crafted a grotesquely overbroad exemption that will be used by many federal contractors as a totally improper, catch-all defense to discrimination complaints.’
Lambda Legal warned it would put LGBT+ employees of federal contractors at risk of being fired or losing health benefits for something as simple as getting married to a same-sex partner or coming out as trans.
Meanwhile Human Rights Campaign Alphonso David said:
‘Within its final weeks, the Trump-Pence administration has chosen to prioritize gutting existing protections for LGBTQ people, women and religious minorities.
‘This action by the administration is blatantly offensive, unnecessary and simply unacceptable, which is further compounded by the fact that they are attempting to jam it through a lame-duck session.
‘Since taking office, the administration has worked around the clock to dehumanize and demean LGBTQ people all while misrepresenting the law to justify creating a license to discriminate against people including on the basis of gender identity and sexual orientation.’
He added that the US had chosen ‘pro-equality leadership’ by electing Biden to the presidency. And he said HRC would work with Biden and Vice President-elect Kamala Harris to overturn the rule.