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U.S Agency Accused of Omitting LGBTQ People From Nondiscrimination Statement

The General Services Administration denies removing specific mention of “sexual orientation” and “gender identity” from its nondiscrimination statement.
Image: General Services Administration in Washington
The General Services Administration headquarters building in Washington on Nov. 21, 2016.Saul Loeb / AFP - Getty Images file

The General Services Administration has been accused of removing specific mention of “sexual orientation” and “gender identity” from its Equal Employment Opportunity statement — an accusation the agency denies.

In a 2015 version of the agency's statement, “sexual orientation” and “gender identity” were specifically included in a list of categories under which discrimination was prohibited in the federal workplace. The 2015 statement also included a footnote explaining the inclusion.

“Allegations of discrimination based on either gender identity or sexual orientation will be considered under the EEO complaints process,” the footnote stated, referring to the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission.

A 'Mean-Spirited' Omission

In a separate online version of the agency's EEO policy, however, there is no specific mention of either sexual orientation or gender identity.

Several LGBTQ websites and advocacy groups, including the Human Rights Campaign, the nation's largest LGBTQ advocacy group, noted the omission and slammed the GSA this week for allegedly removing sexual orientation and gender identity from the statement.

The omission "is mean-spirited, deceptive and irresponsible,” David Stacy, HRC's government affairs director, said in a statement sent to NBC News.

“Cutting specific mention of sexual orientation and gender identity protections is a slap in the face to LGBTQ federal employees who proudly serve, and sadly signals that this administration does not value them," Stacy said. "The GSA should immediately restore the previous, accurate EEO policy.”

But a spokesperson for the GSA said the previous EEO policy was never rescinded in the first place and called the accusations by the HRC and others inaccurate.

"The GSA Order and Policy Statement on Equal Employment Opportunity, linked here at GSA Order 2310.7 ADM, is in full effect and has not been rescinded," the spokesperson said in an email sent to NBC News, adding that the separate version of the agency's EEO policy "was purely informational and not a policy statement."

The GSA spokesperson also noted that the version of the EEO policy that does not include specific mention of "sexual orientation" and "gender identity" has been on the GSA website "since at least 2012 and has not been modified."

The GSA, which provides centralized procurement and building leases for the federal government, is not the first Trump administration agency to be accused of removing mention of sexual orientation and gender identity from its nondiscrimination policy.

The Commerce Department was accused earlier this year and admitted doing so, though a spokesperson for the department attributed the omission to an oversight. The department eventually reissued the policy to specifically include sexual orientation and gender identity.

The Meaning of 'Sex' Discrimination

Government agencies are currently split on the interpretation of the sex discrimination provision in Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, which "prohibits employment discrimination based on race, color, religion, sex and national origin."

The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, which enforces federal anti-discrimination law, has taken the position that Title VII covers sexual orientation and gender identity.

The Justice Department, however, does not share this view. Under the leadership of Attorney General Jeff Sessions, the department has recently submitted court briefs opposing the extension of Title VII discrimination protections on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity.

If President Donald Trump’s two nominees for the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission are confirmed by the Senate, they could tip the balance of the commission decidedly to the right. If that happens, experts say the agency may step back from LGBTQ-employment-rights advocacy and fall in line with the Justice Department’s position on Title VII.