Besides revoking President Obama’s guidelines that protected transgender students from discrimination in public schools, the Trump administration hasn’t made many adjustments to LGBTQ policy. Despite fears that the president would sign a “religious liberty” order essentially legalizing discrimination, he ended up signing a largely symbolic order to appease the Christian right. And with Ivanka and Jared’s prodding, he reaffirmed an Obama-era order that bans LGBTQ workplace discrimination.
But the White House has undercut LGBTQ rights in other, more subtle ways — by appointing and confirming a cabinet of administration officials who oppose LGBTQ rights, for example, and by failing to include any mention of the LGBTQ community on its updated website. And on Thursday, BuzzFeed News reported a similar slight: In its new equal-opportunity employment statement, the Department of Commerce has removed sexual orientation and gender identity from its list of protected categories in its department.
According to BuzzFeed, the statement now reads, “The Department of Commerce does not tolerate behavior, harassment, discrimination or prejudice based on race, color, religion, sex, national origin, age, or disability.” But statements in 2016 and 2014 included a wider variety of protections, and even the 2010 statement read:
The Department of Commerce does not tolerate discrimination based on race, color, religion, sex (including sexual harassment and pregnancy discrimination), sexual orientation, gender identity, national origin, age (40 years of age and over), genetic information or disability (physical or mental), including the provision of reasonable accommodations for qualified applicants and employees with disabilities.
The statement’s exclusion of both phrases doesn’t necessarily carry concrete consequences; if an LGBTQ employee at the commerce department were to be discriminated against at work, they’d still be protected under Obama’s executive order, which keeps LGBTQ workers from discrimination by companies that do business with the federal government. But it “signals that this administration does not value them,” said David Stacy, the government affairs director for the Human Rights Campaign.
What’s more, according to the National Center for Transgender Equality’s Mara Keisling, it could lead to confusion. “If I were a manager, I’d be really afraid that other managers are going to look at this and think that these are not protected people,” she said.
As of now, it’s still unclear whether the exclusion means the White House plans to remove LGBTQ Americans from its list of groups officially protected from discrimination, or if the shortened statement is just catering to the tastes of the president, who’s all about simplicity. When asked, neither the White House nor the Department of Commerce offered an explanation.