Trump trend: LGBTQ mentions quietly axed from discrimination guidelines

The Trump administration has quietly but systematically removed mentions of "sexual orientation" and "gender identity" from executive branch guidelines on discrimination.
Image: Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump holds a rainbow flag
Donald Trump, then the Republican presidential nominee, held a rainbow flag given to him by a supporter during a campaign rally at the University of Northern Colorado in Greeley, Colorado, on Oct. 30, 2016.Chip Somodevilla / Getty Images file
By Tim Fitzsimons

With just over a year left in President Donald Trump's first term, another late-breaking news item barely made waves: The Interior Department — which manages the majority of the federal government's public lands — deleted "sexual orientation" from its anti-discrimination guidelines, as HuffPost first reported last week. The removal was just the latest in a nearly three-year-long effort to strip mention of LGBTQ people from the executive branch bureaucracy.

Reports of such changes began the day Trump assumed office, when LGBTQ content was deleted from the White House, State Department and Labor Department websites within "minutes" of his having been sworn into office, according to GLAAD, a national LGBTQ advocacy group.

Since then, drip by drip, other parts of the federal government have had their online content trimmed to omit mention of lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and queer people.

In July 2017, on the day he announced the transgender military ban on Twitter, Trump's Justice Department officially shifted course regarding its legal interpretation of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act. Unlike the Obama administration, the Trump team would not interpret the decades-old law to prohibit employment discrimination based on sexual orientation.

In November 2017, the General Services Administration removed "sexual orientation" and "gender identity" from its 2015 discrimination statement. In March 2018, lesbian and bisexual resources disappeared from the website of the Department of Health and Human Services.

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Indeed, the government's own civil rights watchdog group, the Commission on Civil Rights, in November found a systematic approach to dismantling LGBTQ rights protections. Karen Narasaki, a member of the commission's board, called it "truly unprecedented."

But last week, the Interior Department's public response to the change raised eyebrows. Carol Danko, a spokesperson, reportedly said the department was following the Obama-era guidance that found that federal civil rights laws protect LGBTQ people.

"Per the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, under Title VII the term 'sex' includes gender, gender identity, transgender status, sexual orientation and pregnancy," Danko said, according to HuffPost.

Danko's response highlights the central tension in the Trump administration's LGBTQ policy: Even as Trump's Justice Department is arguing before the Supreme Court that the Obama-era EEOC guidance is incorrect, other departments are using the guidance to swat away media inquiries about why LGBTQ mentions are being stripped from federal anti-discrimination guidance.

Compounding the confusion, LGBTQ advocates sued to see Justice Department LGBTQ policy documents and a Justice Department employee resource group complained in an open letter about discrimination in the department. Soon after, in April, Attorney General William Barr demonstrated support for the Justice Department's many LGBTQ employees, even as he directed the effort to dismantle federal LGBTQ protections before the Supreme Court.

Barr later released an equal opportunity hiring statement that notably did include "sexual orientation" and "gender identity."

Meanwhile, the Trump administration and the president's re-election campaign have taken some steps to garner LGBTQ support. The administration has appointed several openly gay people to high-level positions, including Richard Grenell as ambassador to Germany and Patrick Bumatay as a judge in the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals. (However, an LGBTQ legal advocacy group recently claimed that a third of Trump's judicial nominees have anti-LGBTQ track records.) The administration has also launched a national HIV-prevention program, and Trump's campaign website sells Trump-branded rainbow merchandise.

GLAAD, one of the president's most vocal critics, has launched a Trump Accountability Project, which has tracked "133 attacks on "LGBTQ people" since the president took office.

"We started this decade with tremendous hope and momentum, and are finishing it with a need to protect all we have achieved in the face of a continuous series of attacks in policy and rhetoric from the Trump administration," GLAAD President and Chief Executive Sarah Kate Ellis said. "The fight for LGBTQ acceptance is far from over and in this new decade, we must continue to use all that we have learned throughout the history of the LGBTQ movement and push forward together in an intersectional and united way."

While the Trump administration did not immediately respond to a request for comment about the president's LGBTQ track record, one of the administration's spokesmen has touted Trump's pro-gay record in a long statement.

"As the first U.S. president in our history to favor same-sex marriage when he was sworn in, President Trump has never considered LGBT Americans second-class citizens and has opposed discrimination of any kind against them," deputy press secretary Judd Deere told NBC News, in part, in November. "While the radical left has pushed disgusting and false accusations that LGBT Americans are threatened, the president has hired and promoted LGBT Americans to the highest levels of government, including positions at the White House, Cabinet agencies, and ambassadorships."

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