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gender & sexuality | government

Administration Targets Federal Employees, Removes Protections for Sexual Orientation

Recently, one of Scott Bloch's first acts as newly appointed Special Counsel to the White House was to instill fear in 'homosexual' employees of the federal government. In an increasingly common curtailment of individual rights, the Bush Administration has removed decades-long protections from employment discrimination against those who serve our nation.
Bloch's expressed rationale for removing protections for gays and lesbians is that "sexual orientation isn't protected from discrimination or hate crimes by current civil rights laws." Presumably, crossdressers, transsexuals and intersex government employees are also at risk since gender-identity and expression have never been explicitly covered.

Not satisfied with continuing "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" discrimination in the nation's armed forces, Mr. Bush and his Special Counsel have decided that GLBT federal civilian employees have no recourse if fired simply for their sexual orientation.

The Office of Special Counsel (OSC) website includes 12 practices prohibited in accordance with the Civil Service Reform Act (CSRA) of 1978. Among these prohibitions is discrimination based on personal conduct that is not adverse to the on-the-job performance of an employee, applicant, or others. The OSC and the Office of Personnel Management (OPM) long interpreted this to include sexual orientation.

In a statement issued March 31, House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) issued a statement blasting Bloch. "The actions of Special Counsel Scott Bloch are not only needlessly divisive, they are simply wrong as a matter of law." She added, "Mr. Bloch's willingness to tolerate discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation is contrary to federal law, which has long been held by the Office of Special Counsel during Administrations of both political parties."

In 1998, President Clinton codified this interpretation by amending Executive Order 11478 - Section 1 to state in part, "It is the policy of the Government of the United States to provide equal opportunity in Federal employment for all persons to prohibit discrimination in employment because of race, color, religion, sex, national origin, handicap, age, or sexual orientation through a continuing affirmative program in each executive department and agency." [Emphasis added.]

Not so, says the new Special Counsel, former Deputy Director of the Justice Department's Task Force for Faith-based and Community Initiatives. In a recent interview with the Federal Times, a publication for federal managers, Bloch indicated that one's conduct as a homosexual is protected but that one's sexual orientation itself is not.

"People confuse conduct and sexual orientation as the same thing, and I don't think they are," Bloch told the Times. In interpreting the CSRA, "Someone may have jumped to the conclusion that conduct equals sexual orientation, but they are essentially very different. One is a class ... and one is behavior," he explained.

"In other words, Men having Sex with Men (MSM) cannot be discriminated against," commented Vanessa Edwards Foster, chair of the National Transgender Advocacy Coalition (NTAC), "but identifying as gay will get you fired. How odd."

Bloch also inferred in the article that the recent interpretation could be up for further review at a later time.

"This is more bizarre than the military's discriminatory 'Don't Ask, Don't Tell' policy against gays and transgenders," said Robyn Walters, Secretary of the. "Apparently gays and lesbian federal employees can't be fired for participating in homosexual acts or gay rights meetings, but they can be fired just for being homosexual.

"Such ludicrous decisions result when 'compassionate conservatism' mixes with the influence of radical Christian political groups and their campaign contributions," added Walters

The recent official move by the OSC, as well as a deterioration of workplace decorum has many transsexual employees, both pre-transition and especially post-transitioned, on edge. According to a transgendered law enforcement officer who wished to remain unnamed, "they are afraid that this President is going to set the stage for witch hunts and they feel ripe for targeting, especially the Federal [employees]."

There are transsexual employees who have transitioned or would like to transition on their jobs in numerous federal agencies, including the FBI and the Dept. of Justice. The source added, "We have several feds" in a loosely-based group of transgenders in law enforcement, "and they all express concern over this."

This newest blow to GLBT human rights reinforces NTAC resolve to press the GLBT community and federal, state and local legislators to enact transgender-inclusive employment nondiscrimination, both in government employment and federally as well.

"It is unacceptable to use an ideological or political agenda to subvert years of settled interpretation of federal personnel policies and statutes," Rep. Pelosi stated on the OSC change. "Once again, this Administration has sought to divide the American people for political purposes."


Founded in 1999, NTAC - the National Transgender Advocacy Coalition - is a 501(c)(4) civil rights organization working to establish and maintain the right of all transgendered, intersexed, and gender-variant people to live and work without fear of violence or discrimination.

homepage: homepage: http://www.ntac.org