First there was the historic provision in the new North American trade agreement providing protection for the LGBTQ community. Included in the proposed agreement is a requirement that the U.S., Canada and Mexico take steps to protect workers against discrimination on the basis of sex, including sexual orientation and gender identity.
Then after the LGBTQ provisions were made public, came the inevitable protests from congressional Republicans. Nearly 40 GOP lawmakers are unhappy about the protections for LGBT workers in the trade proposal.
These conservative Republicans in the House are demanding that President Trump drop the language which protects workers from “discrimination on the basis of sex, including sexual orientation and gender identity.”
To express their displeasure they drafted and mailed to the President a letter which was signed by 38 Republicans.
“A trade agreement is no place for the adoption of social policy,” the letter said “It is especially inappropriate and insulting to our sovereignty to needlessly submit to social policies which the United States Congress has so far explicitly refused to accept.”
The proposed trade deal, which Trump negotiated with Mexican and Canadian leaders in October, currently includes a provision that protects against discrimination on the basis of “gender identity” under that umbrella.
This is the first time language like that has been included in a U.S. trade agreement.
Insiders involved in the trade talks said that Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau pushed for the language to be included. Afterwards he reportedly called it a “big win” for the LGBT community.
The unhappy congressional Republicans, including the most conservative House members, believe that the term “sex discrimination” should not be extended to include transgender people. Therefore they are strongly objecting to the inclusion of the “gender identity” language.
Within the Trump administration there is disagreement on this point. The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) says civil rights laws protect transgender workers, while the Justice Department (DOJ) does not agree. In fact the DOJ has rolled back Obama-era protections for transgender Americans.
The letter, sent on Friday, refers to a 2017 memo from the DOJ that said ” ‘sex’ is ordinarily defined to mean biologically male or female.”
“One wonders at the contradictory policy coming through the U.S. Trade Representative when other departments under your administration are working to come into alignment on sexual orientation and gender identity policy,” the letter said.
The U.S., Mexico and Canada, are scheduled to sign the new trade deal on November 30 at the Group of 20 summit in Argentina.
“This is language that is going to cause a lot of people to reconsider their support of the trade agreement, and to the point that it may endanger the passage of the trade agreement unless something is done,” Rep. Doug Lamborn (R-Colo.) lamented.
If the Trump administration now tries to change the language, it would be met with strong pushback from Canada, according to those involved in the talks.
The conservative Republicans in their letter to the president also cited a recent New York Times report that said the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS) is planning to exclude transgender and nonbinary people from its legal definition of gender.
The letter refers to the controversial Times report as “encouraging.”
Trans and LGBTQ advocacy organizations are denouncing the proposed DHHS change, saying it would result in more discrimination against trans and nonbinary individuals. These same organizations were very pleased to see the protection language in the trade agreement and would strongly object to taking it out.
The Trump administration has been rolling back LGBT protections since Trump came into office. Including such protections in the trade deal is a great idea, and they should remain there despite the protests from the narrow-minded group of right-wing Republicans.
I am a lifelong Democrat with a passion for social justice and progressive issues. I have degrees in writing, economics and law from the University of Iowa.