Steve King successfully pushed to erase protection for LGBTQ Americans in NAFTA revision

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Marchers don the transgender and gay pride flags during the WERK for Your Health rally in Washington D.C. on June 26, 2017. — Ted Eytan/Flickr

The revision of NAFTA signed by President Donald Trump, President Enrique Peña Nieto of Mexico and Prime Minister Justin Trudeau of Canada in Buenos Aires on Friday contains a ground-breaking provision regarding LGBTQ rights. But thanks in part to pressure from Rep. Steve King and 39 other rightwing members of Congress, that provision won’t apply to the United States.

The text of the United States-Mexico-Canada Agreement (USMCA), which revises but doesn’t replace NAFTA, calls on all three countries to adopt “policies that protect workers against employment discrimination on the basis of sex, including with regard to pregnancy, sexual harassment, sexual orientation, gender identity.” The provision was added at the insistence of Canada.

The addition was uncontroversial in Canada and Mexico, but to King and his colleagues it was completely unacceptable.

On Nov. 16, they sent a letter to Trump demanding the removal of any reference to sexual orientation or gender identity in the agreement.

The letter begins, as letters to Trump typically do, with a paragraph of flattery, praising Trump’s “hard work” and “tireless efforts to protect the American worker and the American economy,” before getting to the issue.

“We are, however, deeply concerned by the unprecedented inclusion in the U.S.-Mexico-Canada Agreement (USMCA) of sexual orientation and gender identity (SOGI) language, for the first time in a Free Trade agreement,” the letter states. It says encouraging protection of LGBTQ workers is “inappropriate and insulting to our sovereignty.”

“It sets a dangerous precedent for courts and future administrations to build on,” the lawmakers warned.

The Trump administration did not make a public push to eliminate the provision, which Prime Minister Trudeau had personally pushed to include in the USMCA. Instead, it had a footnote inserted in the final text, which was not made public prior to signing ceremony.

The United States’ existing federal agency policies regarding the hiring of federal workers are sufficient to fulfill the obligations set forth in this Article. The Article thus requires no additional action on the part of the United States, including any amendments to Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, in order for the United States to be in compliance with the obligations set forth in this Article.

In other words, while Canada and Mexico agree to work to eliminate discrimination against LGBTQ people, the U.S. won’t commit to doing anything beyond what it is currently doing.

Federal law does not explicitly prohibit discrimination against LGBTQ people, but federal agencies have included them under provisions dealing with gender discrimination in Title VII of the Civil Rights Act. The Trump administration has recently taken steps to redefine the meaning of gender in Title VII “as a biological, immutable condition determined by genitalia at birth,” which would have the effect of erasing transgender people from federal regulations.

In their letter to Trump, the 40 Republicans noted approvingly “your Administration is carrying out a cohesive policy regarding sexual orientation and gender identity” and is “working to restore the historic definition of ‘sex’ to a person’s anatomical sex at birth.”

King, of course, has a long history of homophobia that got fresh attention in November, when the western Iowa congressman finished his reelection campaign by complaining about the National Republican Congressional Committee (NRCC) supporting an openly gay candidate, even though the NRCC had ended its support for him because of his white nationalism.

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Oh, and also, they sent money over to support a candidate in a primary in California, who was a… he had a same-sex partner that they put all over glossy mailers and — I don’t know if they were holding hands or what was the deal. Man, that’s hard to write a check to those guys [the NRCC] when they do that. So, I’m hopeful that we get conservative leadership in the House. I don’t know where that’s going to go for sure.

As the journalist Eric Kleefeld pointed out, there was no Republican candidate this year like the one King was describing. But there was in 2014.

Last year, Pink News published a story recounting some of King’s more notable homophobic statements.

You might remember Republican Congressman Steve King as the guy who offered to marry gay people to his lawnmower, the guy who claimed evidence for gay parenting is ‘fake’ like global warming research, or the guy who tried to ban trans people from peeing in the Capitol.

King easily won reelection in November. When he begins his ninth term in Congress in January, King will be the only Republican in Iowa’s delegation in the House of Representatives.

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