Once again, the Trump administration refused to protect LGBTQ workers from discrimination. This time in its new agreement – the NAFTA 2.0. Due to pressure from Canada’s trade representative, new wording was negotiated into the agreement to protect workers from discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity.
Resistance from republicans
However, after a major push by the administration and Republicans in Congress, the LGBTQ wording was amended with a footnote limiting the protections afforded to federal workers. It also states specifically that “no further action is required from the United States, including amendments to Title VII of the 1964 Civil Rights Act”. The administration relies on a Clinton era decree that adds protection of sexual orientation to federal workers. President Obama extended these protections with his own executive order that also added gender identity as a protected class, but these two orders were undermined by Trump’s so-called “freedom of religion” decree.
This is yet another example of how the Trump administration is advancing the status quo with respect to workers’ rights in our trade agreements – words on paper that cannot be applied and will not be implemented. It is widely known that discrimination in employment is a serious and persistent problem for LGBTQ workers, which probably contributes to the higher level of poverty observed in the community. More than half of LGBTQ workers hide their sexual orientation or gender identity at work.
Nearly one-quarter of working LGBTQ people report being discriminated against at work, whether in terms of wages, promotions or finding a job. And these numbers are higher for some segments of this community. If you are trans or non-conformist in terms of gender, color, or LGBTQ immigrant, you risk being discriminated against on many levels. There is no federal law protecting these workers from discrimination. In fact, there are only a handful of state laws that offer these protections. The majority of LGBTQ people in America live in a state where no law prevents discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation or gender identity. Courts are still deciding whether discrimination on the grounds of sexual orientation and gender identity is a form of gender discrimination, and the current composition of the Supreme Court does not bode well for the multitude of cases in progress. We now see in real time the damage that an LGBTQ hostile administration can inflict on the progress of the community.
No other real changes to the agreement
Trump is promoting this deal as a boon to American workers, but in reality, it’s just the same thing. The trade policy should aim to create better jobs, strengthen communities, reduce poverty and build a stronger economy for all. Discrimination in employment is an obstacle to equal opportunities, weakens communities and exacerbates poverty.
Long struggle for LGBTQ workers
LGBTQ workers have been seeking workplace protections for nearly 40 years in the United States, most recently under the Equality Act and then the Employment Non-Discrimination Act. ENDA), among other proposals. Recently a letter was sent to Ambassador Lighthizer, US Trade Representative, urging him to keep the wording of the final agreement, a piece of advice he obviously did not follow. NAFTA 2.0 could have been a first step towards the adoption of the Equality Act, but the Administration ensured that LGBTQ workers do not benefit from these protections today. Canada recently set a standard for trade agreements that include LGBTQ protections and will continue to press for these protections to be applicable in future trade agreements. With their new majority in the House, the Democrats have committed to making the Equality Act a priority of Congress. A footnote in a trade agreement does not erase the urgent need to improve LGBTQ protections, nor the legislative power to do so, regardless of the wishes of the current administration.