Footnote in new trade deal causes confusion over LGBTQ protections

By Tim Fitzsimons

The final version of a new trade deal signed by the U.S., Canada and Mexico on Nov. 30 includes language that says the three countries “shall implement policies that protect workers against discrimination” including on the basis of “sexual orientation” and “gender identity.” The language is the first time a major international trade deal has included workplace protections for LGBTQ people.

However, following a letter by 46 “deeply concerned” Republican lawmakers who took issue with the “unprecedented inclusion” of such language, a footnote was added to the document that has sowed broad confusion about the current status of LGBTQ protections in the now-signed deal.

“The United States’ existing federal agency policies regarding the hiring of federal workers are sufficient to fulfill the obligations set forth in this Article,” footnote 13, at the bottom of page 23-6, states. “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.”

Legal and labor experts disagree on exactly how or whether the original LGBTQ protections, inserted by Canada, will be enforceable in the U.S., but most see the footnote as an attempt to exempt the U.S. from taking any additional steps to protect lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and queer workers. Currently, LGBTQ federal workers are protected uniformly, thanks to Obama-era executive orders, but LGBTQ workers in the private sector are protected (or not protected) by a patchwork of state laws.

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