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What does workforce innovation have to do with gender identity?

  • Joanna
  • May 5, 2016

Could Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act programs be a new front in the culture war?

They could if 77 pages of proposed nondiscrimination rules related to the act are implemented. That’s because the rules, recently published in the Federal Register, take significant steps to protect the rights of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender individuals who are employed under the auspices of the act, or served by programs funded by the multi-billion-dollar federal program.

The language used in the famously impenetrable federal register caught the eye of The Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights, which applauded the Department of Labor for its approach to gender identity discrimination — at a time in which several states have come under fire for laws that critics say unfairly target transgender Americans.

Writing on behalf of organizations including the NAACP, Anti-Defamation League and the National Women’s Law Center, the Leadership Conference said it was “pleased” that the Department of Labor had “proposed regulations that explicitly recognize that gender identity discrimination is a form of sex discrimination,” noting that the authors of the proposed rules “used gender-neutral language so that individuals of all genders are protected.”

By its reading, the conference said, the new rules recognized “that denying access to facilities consistent with an employee’s gender identity because of transgender status is a form of sex discrimination.”

What does that mean for programs in states like North Carolina, which recently passed legislation quashing antidiscrimination ordinances that protect gay and transgender people and prohibiting cities from passing any additional such measures? In certain circumstances, it could put program implementers holding fast to state laws (among other things, the North Carolina law bars transgender people from using public restrooms that match their gender identity) up against federal rules that could influence whether programs will continue to be funded from year to year.