Commerce Department Eliminates LGBTQ Protections For Its Employees

Photographed by David Brandon Geeting.
One of the agencies under the Trump administration has removed language from its equal employment policy protecting LGBTQ employees, breaking tradition with the Obama administration.
BuzzFeed News reported the Department of Commerce removed gender identity and sexual orientation from the 2017 statement listing the categories that are protected from discrimination in the department's policy. The document was signed by Secretary Wilbur Ross, who joined the agency in late February.
"The Department of Commerce does not tolerate behavior, harassment, discrimination or prejudice based on race, color, religion, sex, national origin, age, or disability," this year's Secretarial Policy Statement on Equal Employment Opportunity reads. "We will also provide reasonable accommodations for applicants and employees with disabilities."
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The policy doesn't mean it's open season on LGBTQ employees in the department, as they're federally protected by the Civil Service Reform Act. However, it's bad optics that the Commerce Department decided to forfeit language that can be reassuring for its employees who happen to be LGBTQ.
In contrast, the equal employment policy at the department during the Obama-era included both terms, which was consistent with the administration's outlook on the LGBTQ community.
Previous iterations of these statements from Secretary Gary Locke and Secretary Penny Pritzker went as far as saying issues such as sexual harassment, pregnancy discrimination, being 40-years-old and over, genetic information, and having a physical or mental disability were all explicitly protected from discrimination in the workplace. (Here are the policies for 2010, 2014, and 2016.)
Besides eliminating gender identity and sexual orientation from the statement, the Trump administration's policy is less explicit on who deserves protection.
In 2014, President Obama signed an executive order outlining explicit nondiscrimination protections for LGBTQ federal employees. After taking office in January, President Trump said he would uphold the Obama administration's policies for LGBTQ folks. It seems that promise has changed.
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