The Trump administration just proposed a new rule that would allow businesses with federal contracts to discriminate against their workers on the basis of LGBTQ status, race, sex, ethnicity, national origin, or other characteristics. If passed, the rule would mark a major step backward for LGBTQ workers’ rights.
The proposed rule allows businesses to cite a “religious objection” as a valid reason for discrimination. It applies to all organizations with a federal contract, including for-profit corporations and schools, and they wouldn’t need to be solely focused on religion to qualify.
“The contractor must be organized for a religious purpose, meaning that it was conceived with a self-identified religious purpose. This need not be the contractor’s only purpose,” the new rule says.
A company could use a variety of types of evidence to show that religious principles guide their work. That company would then be free to fire or refuse to hire someone because of their sexual orientation or gender identity. For example, a corporation could fire an employee for being a lesbian.
LGBTQ advocates say the new rule provides a loophole for companies to freely discriminate.
“The problem isn’t so much that [contractors] will necessarily hold sincerely religious beliefs, but they will use this as an excuse for their homophobia and their transphobia,” explains Victoria Rodriguez-Roldan, senior policy counsel for the National LGBTQ Task Force.
“This administration has clearly shown a propensity to use religious liberty to give a license to discriminate,” agrees Frank J. Bewkes, policy analyst for the LGBT Research and Communications Project at the Center for American Progress.
There is no federal law protecting LGBTQ workers. However, there are longstanding executive orders, such as President Barack Obama’s 2014 executive order banning anti-LGBTQ discrimination for federal employees. The Trump administration’s new rule wouldn’t eliminate this executive order, but instead provide a workaround.
The new proposal could apply to up to 420,000 contractors.
“This is a huge number of people this is affecting who are LGBTQ workers,” Bewkes said.