One of the administrators responsible for protecting diversity among federal employees has effectively admitted that guidance protecting transgender workers was removed to make it easier to discriminate against them.
Over the Thanksgiving holiday, the Office of Personnel Management (OPM), which oversees all federal employees, surreptitiously removed language from its website which detailed how to respect transgender employees. At the time, the administration made no public comment explaining the change.
The site Government Executive has since obtained an audio recording of OPM Diversity Program Manager Natalie Veeney reportedly justifying the language removal to an LGBTQ federal employee group. OPM had decided it was “best to afford agencies more discretion in responding to the needs of their workforce,” she said, acknowledging the removal was a “shock to many” and claiming it was “hard for me as well.”
Veeney reportedly said federal agencies will now “have autonomy to put forth their policies and their practices and their procedures based upon their missions and their employees.” She reportedly urged those on the call that they have to take matters into their own hands when discussing such issues with their managers. “While it’s not in the direction that we likely would have liked to go, it does not stop the work that we have done,” she said.
The now-removed guidance was specifically designed to protect transgender employees from having to advocate for themselves in the face of discrimination. It outlined assurances for their confidentiality, ensured they could dress according to their identity and be addressed by the appropriate name and pronouns, and guaranteed their access to bathrooms and other facilities. It also provided details about how to make sure their employee records were updated and protected them from specific forms of discrimination in hiring or with regards to their insurance.
Now, even if trans employees do advocate for themselves, there is no guidance available to confirm to managers what protections they are entitled to.
The Trump administration has used this sort of approach before when dismantling transgender protections. When the Department of Education rescinded guidance that protected transgender students from discrimination in February 2017, it explained to schools across the country that “school administrators, parents, and students have expressed varying views on the legal issues arising in this setting.” In other words, if different schools want to treat transgender people differently, they should be able to do so, the administration insisted.
Nondiscrimination protections are meant to provide a standard for ensuring no transgender person is subjected to disparate treatment. But now the administration is inviting different federal agencies to respond differently to transgender employees, with no guidance to ensure those responses actually protect the employees.
Trump has promised not to rescind the 2014 executive orders President Obama signed protecting LGBTQ federal workers from discrimination. Those executive orders were recently used to prop up the United States’ commitment to LGBTQ workplace protections in its recent trade agreement with Mexico and Canada. The deal calls for all three countries to protect all LGBTQ workers, but a footnote claims that these executive orders are sufficient for the United States to meet its obligation.
Veeney’s explanation, by contrast, would confirm that the OPM guidance was removed specifically in an effort to weaken how effectively the executive orders can be enforced.
Government Executive received an official response from OPM communications director Anthony Marucci about the removal of the guidance last week. “The administration is fully committed to providing a workplace that is free from discrimination, as outlined in law,” he said.
ThinkProgress has reached out to OPM officials for comment on the audio recording and is awaiting a response.