President Donald Trump’s new North American trade agreement, might actually benefit an unexpected group of people – the LGBTQ community. Well, maybe. The agreement known as the United States-Mexico-Canada Agreement (USMCA) includes a requirement that the United States, Mexico, and Canada all take steps to protect workers against discrimination on the basis of sex, including sexual orientation and gender identity. This is great news if the provision survives all of the edits to the final deal. But don’t go praising Donald Trump for this one as it was Canadian Prime Minister, Justin Trudeau, who pushed for this. In fact, Trudeau wanted an entire chapter on gender equality, but the final deal that was agreed to (finally) fell short of that, but at least it will include a provision around gender discrimination.
The language goes beyond past trade deals, including the Trans-Pacific Partnership negotiated under Barack Obama. That pact raised concerns for members of the Congressional LGBT Equality Caucus because it included both Bahrain and Malaysia, two countries with penal codes permitting the imprisonment and physical harm of LGBTQ people. Both Canada and the U.S. agree that this provision wouldn’t require a new law, but regardless of that, the inclusion of this clause in the agreement is going to have real-world consequences, and it might not end so well for people in the U.S. The New York Times reported this week that the Trump administration — through an initiative spearheaded by the HHS Department — is considering narrowly defining gender based on the sex organs an individual has at birth. That could bar protections for individuals who self-identify as some other gender.
What’s interesting is that the Justice Department has also backed away from the Obama administration’s view that gender identity and sexual orientation are protected under Title VII of the 1964 Civil Rights Act. The same Justice Department that is administered under Attorney General, Jeff Sessions. I’m emphasizing this because of how surprising any of this is. When asked for comment, Donald Trump had this to say:
“We’re looking at it. We have a lot of different concepts right now. They have a lot of different things happening with respect to transgender right now. You know that as well as I do and we’re looking at it very seriously.”
When he says that he’s looking at it very seriously, it doesn’t mean that anything positive will come out of the deal. In fact, I would hazard a guess that he will do whatever he can to take rights away from transgendered people if he’s able to. What we should be thinking about is the way that other countries handle these kinds of rights. Canada has workplace discrimination laws that are designed to protect people from being discriminated because of their gender. They have also recently passed a new law that also protects transgendered people. That doesn’t mean that the system is perfect, it simply means that leaders are taking those rights seriously.
I hope that this provision remains in the USMCA as I think it will help in the long run, but with this administration, nothing surprises me.