Trump rule would let some businesses bar LGBT workers

Advocacy groups slamming it as "taxpayer-funded discrimination in the name of religion."

In its latest rollback of key safeguards for LGBTQ civil rights, the Trump administration intends to remove nondiscrimination protections for LGBTQ people by adding religious exemptions to an Obama-era 2014 executive order that prohibited discrimination in hiring on the basis of both sexual orientation and gender identity. Advocacy groups have decried the new rule as just the latest attack on the LGBTQ community, slamming it as “taxpayer-funded discrimination in the name of religion.”

The proposal, which goes public on Thursday at the direction of the U.S. Department of Labor, comes as a stark reversal in administration policy after President Trump vowed to maintain the Obama executive order during his first month in office. 

“President Donald J. Trump is determined to protect the rights of all Americans, including the LGBTQ community. President Trump continues to be respectful and supportive of LGBTQ rights, just as he was throughout the election,” the White House said at the time. 

But the new rule appears to let government contractors terminate workers who are LGBTQ, based on the employers’ personal religious views. Under the Labor Department guidelines, any organization — be it a church, school or major corporation — could prove it serves a religious purpose by claiming it is “guided by faith,” according to the 46-page long draft of the rule. 

“The contractor must be organized for a religious purpose, meaning that it was conceived with a self-identified religious purpose. This need not be the contractor’s only purpose,” the document reads. 

The move is the latest in a string of policy reversals that impede on the rights of the LGBTQ community. Most recently, the Trump administration changed regulations under the Affordable Care Act to allow health care providers to refuse treatment to LGBTQ people on the basis of their religious beliefs. It’s also consistent with the administration’s controversial push over the past two years to include more federal protections in the name of “religious freedom.”

The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) said in a statement on Wednesday that it plans on taking the Trump administration back to court over the latest action. 

“Nearly one-quarter of employees in the United States work for an employer that has a contract with the federal government. This rule seeks to undermine our civil rights protections and encourages discrimination in the workplace — and we will work to stop it,” an ACLU spokesperson said. 

The Human Rights Campaign, the leading lobbying and advocacy group for LGBTQ people, said their group will not stand “idly by” as the Trump administration seeks to “gut existing protections for LGBTQ people, women, and religious minorities.”

“This regulation, which directly contradicts Trump’s earlier promise, is a broad and sweeping effort to implement a license to discriminate against people on the basis of their gender identity and sexual orientation. Everyone deserves a workplace free from discrimination. The Trump administration needs to withdraw this proposed regulation and stop these attacks on LGBTQ people,” said Human Rights Campaign President Alphonso David.

The move also has been panned by top Democrats, including House Speaker Nancy Pelosi. 

“The Administration’s license to discriminate is cruel, blatantly bigoted and downright dangerous. This hateful rule would greenlight open discrimination against tens of millions of Americans in the workplace, using taxpayer dollars to throw into jeopardy their safety, financial security and well-being,” Pelosi said in a statement Wednesday. 

The Department of Labor, meanwhile, stands by its new policy, saying the revised rule will help, not hurt civil rights protections — just for those who are considered “religious employers.”

“As people of faith with deeply held religious beliefs are making decisions on whether to participate in federal contracting, they deserve clear understanding of their obligations and protections under the law,” Acting U.S. Secretary of Labor Patrick Pizzella remarked in a statement.  The department added that the rule would be consistent with standing Trump policy “to enforce the robust protections for religious freedom found in federal law.”