Anti-LGBTQ animus isn’t just coming from inside the White House. The latest move comes from Republican members of Congress who are worried about the inclusion of protections for LGBTQ people during the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) 2.0 negotiations.
Thirty-eight congressional representatives signed a November 16 letter protesting LGBTQ protections in the U.S.-Mexico-Canada Agreement (USMCA), the policy Trump designed with the intent of replacing NAFTA. Spearheaded by Colorado Rep. Doug Lamborn, other signatories on the letter range from Iowa white nationalist Rep. Steve King to Freedom Caucus chair Rep. Mark Meadows of North Carolina. (Two congressmen, Texas Rep. Roger Williams and Ohio Rep. Warren Davidson, were named but their signatures were left blank.)
“We recognize your tireless efforts to protect the American worker and the American economy,” reads the letter, which then gets to the heart of the lawmakers’ problem: “the unprecedented inclusion” of gender identity and sexual orientation for the first time in an official U.S. free trade agreement.
According to the letter writers, the Trump administration is already carrying out a “cohesive agenda” for policies related to gender identity and sexual orientation, such as the Oct. 2017 memo from then-Attorney General Jeff Sessions that defined sex as “ordinarily defined to mean biologically male or female” and attempts to narrow the legal definition of “sex” by the Department of Health and Human Services. The GOP members of Congress seem to worry that these protections could mess up the conservative anti-LGBTQ long game. The letter called it “deeply troubling” that NAFTA 2.0 “included contradictory language” conflicting with the administration’s anti-LGBTQ policies.
NAFTA was an agreement between the United States, Canada, and Mexico to create a trading bloc amongst the three nations that slowly eliminated tariffs after it was signed in 1992. The trade agreement quickly became a talking point for President Trump to support his supposed deal-making prowess; he campaigned hard on tearing up the international trade deal.
“A Trump administration will renegotiate NAFTA, and if we don’t get the deal we want, we will terminate NAFTA and get a much better deal for our workers and our companies,” Trump said during a pre-election rally in Grand Rapids, Michigan. “One hundred percent.”
Unlike many of his campaign promises, NAFTA 2.0 is something Trump has delivered on. The newly finalized trade agreement was announced by the White House on October 1.
“It’s not NAFTA redone, it’s a brand-new deal,” Trump said at the time. Numerous analyses have pointed out potential roadblocks for ratification — groups representing car manufactures or farmers worry their industries will be harmed by the new deal — but it turns out the roadblocks could be coming from members of Trump’s own party.
The lawmakers are concerned that the new international agreement’s inclusion of sexual orientation and gender identity may “cause unnecessary confusion in future international treaties as well as domestic laws and policies” while possibly setting a “dangerous precedent for courts and future administrations to build upon.” The LGBTQ protections weren’t included because of American pressure, but rather a “progressive” Canadian agenda championed by Prime Minister Justin Trudeau. One (unnamed) Canadian official told Politico on October 23, “We viewed it as important to get gender identity included in the agreement…It’s a win for us.”
While the American Civil Liberties Union couldn’t comment on the specifics of the USMCA, ACLU Senior Legislative Representative Ian Thompson pointed out that the election in November gave us a “pro-equality majority” in the House of Representatives.
“The extreme, anti-LGBTQ efforts of some House Republicans do not match the values of most House members or the American people. These attacks on basic human dignity should be abandoned,” Thompson told INTO in an email.
A request for comment sent to the Congressional LGBT Equality Caucus did not get an immediate response. But in a Monday tweet, the caucus called the GOP letter a “needless and cruel attack on the LGBT community.”
— LGBTQ+ Equality Caucus (@LGBTEqCaucus) November 19, 2018
Instead, 38 house members are taking time to make it clear that they are threatened by the agreement’s inclusive language. “A trade agreement is no place for the adoption of social policy,” reads the letter from the GOP members of Congress. “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. One wonders at the contradictory policy coming through USTR [the Office of the U.S. Trade Representative] when other Departments under your Administration are working to come into alignment on SOGI [sexual orientation and gender identity.”
The letter writers also worry that these protections will further insulate Barack Obama’s 2014 executive orders that outlawed federal contractors from discriminating against workers on the basis of their sexual orientation and gender identity. “If the USMCA is enacted with this SOGI language, you would lose your ability to rescind these Obama-era Executive Orders or roll back their implementing regulations to create a unified SOGI policy,” the GOP house members write in the letter.
Republican Colorado Congressman Doug Lamborn, the first signer on the letter, told Politico that these protections could endanger the agreement’s safe ratification in Congress. “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,” Lamborn said.
But time is running out. Even though Congress probably won’t take a vote to ratify the deal until 2019, the USMCA is expected to be signed by all three countries at the G20 summit in Argentina on November 30.