The Department of Commerce excluded sexual orientation and gender identity in its most recent Equal Opportunity Employment policy statement, provoking pushback from LGBT rights groups.
“The Department of Commerce does not tolerate behavior, harassment, discrimination or prejudice,” the statement read, “based on race, color, religion, sex, national origin, age or disability.” In contrast, during Obama’s administration in 2016, the statement read that the department would not tolerate discrimination “based on race, color, religion, sex…sexual orientation, gender identity, national origin, age…genetic information or disability.”
After a report into the matter was launched by BuzzFeed, the department re-instated the old language into the statement. Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross “directed the Department to reissue the policy statement to address any concerns and prevent misinterpretation.” Last week, Ross sent an email to his staff assuring them that the “EEO statement was never intended to change policy or exclude any protected categories.” He also made sure to reaffirm department employees that they “will continue to enjoy the fullest extent of the protections of all the non-discrimination laws.”
Nevertheless, it didn’t go unnoticed that the 2017 Secretarial Policy Statement on Equal Employment Opportunity, signed by Ross, clearly failed to mention sexual orientation and gender—a man past reports show has been insensitive toward the LGBT community. The erasure, however temporary, harkens back to the mysterious disappearance of mentions of LGBTQ people and their rights on government websites under the Trump administration. And whether these instances are a matter of poor judgement or purposeful exclusion, the message they send is dangerous.
“It is careless bad government,” Mara Keisling, executive director of the National Center for Transgender Equality, told BuzzFeed. “Trans employees are still absolutely covered by sex discrimination laws and sex is listed there. So even if the Trump administration doesn’t want to enforce federal civil rights laws we’re not going to let them get away with that. 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.”