With just over a month left in office, the Trump administration has made a last ditch effort to rollback nondiscrimination protections for LGBTQ+ Americans.
The US Department of Labor’s Office of Federal Contract Compliance Programs quietly issued a final rule on Monday, allowing federal contractors to discriminate against LGBTQ+ employees under the guise of religious freedom.
Initially proposed in 2019, the new rule expands religious exemptions to nondiscrimination protections for faith-based contractors and for-profit companies who may “prefer” employees of a certain religion, sexual orientation, or gender identity. Previously, the rule only applied to faith-based non-profit organizations.
The new rule seeks to provide a “clearer interpretation” of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, which banned employment discrimination on the basis of race, color, religion, sex, or national origin. Former President Barack Obama signed an executive order in 2014, adding sexual orientation and gender identity to this list of protected classes.
The rule also blatantly contradicts Bostock v. Clayton County, which effectively prohibits workplace discrimination for LGBTQ+ workers.
In a summary of the final rule, the Department of Labor cited the Supreme Court cases Burwell v. Hobby Lobby and Masterpiece Cakeshop v. Colorado Civil Rights Commission, both of which allowed businesses to discriminate against employees and consumers under the guise of religious freedom.
“Religious organizations should not have to fear that acceptance of a federal contract or subcontract will require them to abandon their religious character or identity,” Secretary of Labor Eugene Scalia said in a statement on Monday. Scalia is the son of the late Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia, who once compared gay people to murderers and animal abusers.
LGBTQ+ advocacy groups have promptly condemned the new rule and chastised the Trump administration, highlighting the impact it could have on LGBTQ+ people, women, and religious minorities.
“This action by the administration is blatantly offensive, unnecessary and simply unacceptable, which is further compounded by the fact that they are attempting to jam it through a lame duck session,” Alphonso David, the President of the Human Rights Campaign, said in a statement.
“Since taking office, the administration has worked around the clock to dehumanize and demean LGBTQ+ people all while misrepresenting the law to justify creating a license to discriminate against people including on the basis of gender identity and sexual orientation.”
With just 43 days left in office, Trump is spending his remaining time as president weaponizing religious freedom and using it as a license to discriminate against anyone who does not adhere to or abide by a certain standard of beliefs. After four years of rolling back basic rights and protections for LGBTQ+ people, this is just his administration’s latest and hopefully final attempt to make queer and trans people feel unwelcome and unsafe in the US.
While this new rule is a clear attack on the LGBTQ+ community and other marginalized people and should be treated as the threat that it is, President-elect Joe Biden will likely repeal it shortly after his inauguration in January.
Biden has already committed himself to being a “partner” to LGBTQ+ Americans, promising to sign the Equality Act in his first 100 days in office, which would essentially ban discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity. And while there is no way to guarantee exactly what Biden will do once he takes office, for once there is hope.