The White House vowed Tuesday to keep the Obama administration protections extended to lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender workers, a statement said, apparently responding to reports that the orders would be reversed.
“President Trump continues to be respectful and supportive of L.G.B.T.Q. rights, just as he was throughout the election,” the White House said in a statement. “The president is proud to have been the first ever G.O.P. nominee to mention the L.G.B.T.Q. community in his nomination acceptance speech, pledging then to protect the community from violence and oppression.”
The stance followed reports that the Trump administration was considering a sharp break with Obama-era protections.
A draft of a potential executive order that began circulating in Washington over the weekend called for overturning then President Obama’s directive barring discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity in the federal workforce and by federal contractors.
The draft order included multiple provisions, such as possible exemptions that would allow adoption agencies and groups receiving federal funds to deny services to LGBT Americans based on their beliefs. The White House statement did not address those possible changes.
Chad Griffin, president of the Human Rights Campaign, said in a statement Tuesday he and other activists remained concerned that the new administration could still undermine other legal protections based on sexual orientation or gender identify.
“Claiming ally status for not overturning the progress of your predecessor is a rather low bar. LGBTQ refugees, immigrants, Muslims and women are scared today, and with good reason. Donald Trump has done nothing but undermine equality since he set foot in the White House,” Griffin said. “Donald Trump has left the key question unanswered — will he commit to opposing any executive actions that allow government employees, taxpayer-funded organizations or even companies to discriminate?”
The New York Times first reported the decision by the White House to stick with the Obama-era protections.
That top officials have been debating whether to wade into the issue of gay and transgender rights highlights the tension the new administration faces when it comes to social issues. Trump campaigned on an economic message, but he is under pressure from the social conservatives who propelled him into office to implement their top priorities.
The issue of gay rights is particularly fraught for Vice President Pence, who as governor of Indiana signed a controversial measure expanding religious liberties in a way that gay rights groups said opened the door to legalized discrimination. A national outcry over the bill led Pence and the state legislature to weaken the measure.
Speaking to reporters earlier Monday, White House press secretary Sean Spicer declined to comment on whether an executive order affecting gay and transgender people was under consideration.
“I’m not getting ahead of the executive orders that we may or may not issue,” Spicer said. “There is a lot of executive orders, a lot of things that the president has talked about and will continue to fulfill, but we have nothing on that front now.”
The executive order Obama signed in 2014 had two parts. It expanded protections in federal hiring, which already barred discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation, to also include gender identity. And it required all companies doing business with the federal government to have explicit policies barring discrimination against gay and transgender workers.
The move was significant because it applied to 24,000 companies that collectively employed about 28 million workers — representing about a fifth of the U.S. workforce.
But the order drew sharp criticism from religious leaders — including many who were Obama’s allies at the time — because it did not provide an exemption for religious organizations that contract with the government. Many faith-based groups, including Catholic Charities USA, receive federal grants to assist people with housing, disaster relief and hunger, and expressed concern about the precedent it could set for other forms of federal funding.
Gay rights groups argued that such an exemption would amount to a loophole giving groups the right to discriminate.
Any attempt by the Trump administration to rescind or weaken Obama’s order would essentially be an effort to “authorize discrimination” against gay and transgender people, said James Esseks, director of the LGBT program at the American Civil Liberties Union.
“The Trump administration has shown that it’s willing to go against core American values of freedom and equality, and it’s troubling to hear they may
target LGBT people as well,” he said.
But he said the impact might be mitigated because federal law bans discrimination on the basis of sex. Many courts have interpreted discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation or gender identity to be a form of sex discrimination.
This story has been updated to reflect the administration’s decision.
Robert Costa contributed to this report.