After a week of signing executive orders that contrast with the actions of his predecessor, President Trump said he plans to leave federal workplace protections that shield the LGBT community from discrimination in place.
The White House announcement comes just hours before Mr. Trump is expected to nominate a US Supreme Court justice to fill the nearly yearlong vacancy left by Justice Antonin Scalia’s death. Many have speculated that Trump would seek a conservative justice much like Mr. Scalia to fill the empty seat on the nine justice bench, leaving LGBT activists and supporters to worry what influence the new justice could have on decisions involving discrimination and marriage equality.
Trump has made it clear that he plans to dismantle much of former President Barack Obama’s work, after having criticized him for years. In a week where some religious and racial minority groups have felt ostracized by the new administration, the announcement was seen as a win for the LGBT community.
"President Trump continues to be respectful and supportive of LGBTQ rights, just as he was throughout the election," the White House announced in a Monday statement. "The president is proud to have been the first ever GOP nominee to mention the LGBTQ community in his nomination acceptance speech, pledging then to protect the community from violence and oppression."
The executive order, signed into effect in 2014, barred federal contractors from discriminating against LGBT employees and made it illegal to factor gender identity into decisions regarding federal employment.
A year later, the US Supreme Court ruled in favor of gay marriage, striking down laws in states that still prohibited same-sex couples from marrying.
Still, some state legislatures have passed laws that seek to limit the scope of the decision or allow continued, and sometimes more subtle, forms of discrimination.
The next Supreme Court nominee, if confirmed by the Senate, could have the opportunity to hear challenges to such laws as they continue to crop up around the country. Should Trump select a nominee whose values resemble those of Scalia, it’s likely the justice could vote in favor of keeping the laws on the books.
While he was governor of Indiana, Vice President Mike Pence signed the Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA), which allowed business to deny services to LGBT people on the basis that doing so violated their religious beliefs. Citing past anti-LGBT rhetoric on the part of Mr. Pence, many activists have worried that the Trump administration could pose threats to the community’s rights.
Over the weekend, a draft of an executive order seeking to overturn the protections began circulating. It reportedly included provisions that would allow agencies and groups which receive federal funds to deny LGBT applicants on the basis of religious beliefs – a tactic similar to the RFRA.
The Human Rights Campaign, an LGBT civil rights advocacy group that opposes the Trump administration, said it remains skeptical of the president’s commitment to the gay community.
“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,” Human Rights Campaign President Chad Griffin said in a statement to The Washington Post. “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?”
This report contains material from the Associated Press.