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White House reissues LGBTQ wording in equal employment policy after backlash

The department said the change was unintentional.


Samantha Grasso


Published Jun 16, 2017   Updated May 23, 2021, 2:51 am CDT

President Trump‘s Department of Commerce stated it will reissue its equal employment opportunity policy to include LGBTQ discrimination protections. The move came hours after BuzzFeed News reported that sexual orientation and gender identity were absent from the protected categories in the 2017 policy.

According to the publication, the 2017 Secretarial Policy Statement on Equal Employment Opportunity signed by Secretary Wilbur Ross dropped the categories sexual orientation and gender identity. The policy deviated from previous statements made in 2010, 2014, and 2016 by commerce secretaries under President Barack Obama.

The policy also excluded or replaced “sex (including sexual harassment and pregnancy discrimination,” “age (40 years of age and over),” “genetic information,” and “disability (physical or mental).” It instead read as follows:

The Department of Commerce does not tolerate behavior, harassment, discrimination or prejudice based on race, color, religion, sex, national origin, age, or disability. We will also provide reasonable accommodations for applicants and employees with disabilities.

The exclusion wouldn’t affect legal rights of LGBTQ employees, necessarily—employees working under the department would be protected under Obama’s executive order prohibiting federal contractors from discriminating for sexual orientation or gender identity.

However, Democrats and advocates said the policy language made employees feel unwelcome, signaled “bad management,” and sent the messages that the administration doesn’t value employees from the LGBTQ community.

“Cutting specific mention of sexual orientation and gender identity protections is a slap in the face to LGBTQ federal employees who proudly serve at the Department of Commerce and sadly signals that this administration does not value them,” David Stacy, government affairs director for the Human Rights Campaign, told BuzzFeed News.

Hours after BuzzFeed’s story published, a Commerce Department spokesperson stated the policy would be reissued at Secretary Ross’ discretion, though did not confirm if sexual orientation and gender identity would be expressly included. The spokesperson also didn’t comment on who wrote the policy change:

To be clear, the Department’s EEO policy statement was never intended to change the policy or exclude any protected categories. The Department of Commerce policy remains that we do not discriminate on the basis of transgender status and sexual orientation. Department employees will continue to enjoy the fullest extent of the protections of all the non-discrimination laws … Secretary Ross has directed the Department to reissue the policy statement to address any concerns and prevent misinterpretation.

H/T the Cut

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*First Published: Jun 16, 2017, 11:05 am CDT