By Alana Winns
In what appeared to be an affront to the LGBT community, the U.S. Department of Commerce last week omitted existing workplace discrimination language that made many believe the administration was redefining LGBT protections.
The Commerce Department’s 2017 Secretarial Statement on Equal Employment Opportunity, emailed to department employees Thursday, differed from its previous positions on discrimination by failing to distinguish between sexual harassment and sexual identity, opting to use the word “sex” as an umbrella term for both. The annual statement initially said, in part, the department “does not tolerate behavior, harassment, discrimination or prejudice based on race, color, religion, sex, national origin, age or disability.”
Following a wave of criticism from sexuality and gender identity advocates for the removal of protective language from its original document, the Commerce Department tweeted a clarification later on Thursday saying, “To be clear the Department’s EEO policy statement was never intended to change the policy or exclude any protected categories. The Department of Commerce policy remains that we do not discriminate on the basis of transgender status and sexual orientation.”
The tweet later said, “Department employees will continue to enjoy the fullest extent of the protections of all the non-discrimination laws.”
Civil rights, LGBT, women, disabilities, criminal justice reform, equal pay and climate change have all been removed from the White House website.
The 2017 statement, signed by Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross, distinctly differed from last year’s statement, which said the department “does not tolerate discrimination based on race, color, religion, sex (including sexual harassment and pregnancy discrimination), sexual orientation, gender identity, national origin, age (40 years of age and over), genetic information, or disability (physical or mental), including the provision of reasonable accommodations for qualified applicants and employees with disabilities or genetic information.”
The Commerce Department, which is responsible for helping to create jobs and expand business opportunities, explained that simplifying its text did not alter the context of its policy. However, Ross directed the department to update its statement to be almost identical to last year’s “to address any concerns and prevent misinterpretation.”
And currently, with changes in LGBT identification comes a change in numbers as well. According to a Gallup study released this year, more adults are identifying as LGBT, which sometimes contains the letter “q” and “a” at the end representing queer and asexual individuals.
U.S. adults who identified as lesbian, gay, bisexual, or transgender increased from 8 million in 2012 to 10 million in 2016 — approximately 1.75 million more compared to four years prior.
Gallup’s figures were pooled from the largest representative sample of LGBT Americans collected in the U.S. with millennials, those born between 1980 and 1988, being more than twice as likely than any other generation to identify as such, making up 58 percent of the community.
Furthermore, the study found that LGBT identification was more prominent among women, as well noting larger increases in adults among ethnic groups. Ethnic minorities now account for 40 percent of LGBT-identified adults, according to Gallup, with Asian and Hispanic communities contributing the highest numbers.
Increasing numbers show that having defined language is more important in today’s age. The Department of Commerce says it “has instructed federal agencies to process complaints of discrimination on the basis of transgender status and sexual orientation under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and through the federal sector EEO complaint process at 29 C.F.R. Part 1614 as claims of sex discrimination.”