Trump’s controversial diversity order expected to see swift reversal under Biden
President-elect Joe Biden is expected to swiftly reverse an executive order signed by President Trump earlier this year that takes aim at diversity training for government workers by prohibiting the teaching of “divisive concepts.”
The order, which prompted legal challenges from civil rights groups immediately after it was signed in September, has been met with considerable backlash from federal workers and others who say it amounts to executive overreach.
Though the measure — which applies to the military, federal contractors and grant recipients — does not ban diversity and inclusion training outright, its effect has still been significant.
About a month after Trump signed the order, all training programs related to diversity and inclusion were halted at the State Department, a decision the agency said was intended to “allow time for review of content” to ensure compliance with the president’s order.
Rep. Joyce Beatty (D-Ohio), chairwoman of the House Financial Services Diversity and Inclusion Subcommittee, told The Hill it’s critical the measure be undone to preserve diversity and inclusion training programs at federal departments and agencies “as well as in the private sector.”
“We have just started making headway by making sure that companies understand that it’s a good business decision and the value of not only diversity but inclusiveness, and training does that,” said Beatty, who introduced a bill last month that would invalidate Trump’s order. The measure has more than 50 co-sponsors.
Beatty, who recently wrote a letter to Biden urging him to immediately rescind the order upon taking office, said she feels “very positive” the Biden administration will take action against the order, which she called “offensive” and “anti-American.”
The Biden transition team did not respond to a request for comment.
Biden has not commented on the executive order at length. His campaign website, which said he’s committed to promoting “diversity and accountability in leadership across key positions in all federal agencies,” did not address Trump’s executive action directly.
Democratic strategist Tad Devine said he thinks Biden will work “as quickly as humanly possible to undo the damage that Trump has done these last four years, and this executive order on diversity training is a great example of it.”
The measure’s reversal, Devine said, would send a “strong signal” to Biden’s supporters and the rest of the country.
Franklin Turner, a government contracting lawyer and partner at McCarter & English LLP, said the order “had an obvious chilling effect” on any training he said “could conceivably come within the target of this order,” noting the “obviously political” language.
Concepts labeled “divisive” that were banned by the order focused on ideas that “the United States is fundamentally racist or sexist,” that an individual “should feel discomfort, guilt, anguish, or any other form of psychological distress on account of his or her race or sex” and that “one race or sex is inherently superior to another race or sex.”
Turner said the order, which also moved to establish a hotline through the Office of Federal Contract Compliance Programs, “encouraged, basically, federal contractor employees to complain to the extent that they saw or that they received training that they think violated the terms of this order.”
Turner said companies were “certainly concerned about” the order, which warned of “sanctions for noncompliance” and possible debarment for contractors.
Michelle Kim, co-founder and CEO of Awaken, which offers diversity and inclusion trainings, said she initially didn’t think the order would affect her company since it doesn’t work directly with any federal agencies.
But that changed when the company realized contractors were impacted by the order, which extended a ban on training that involved race- and sex-based discrimination weeks after the administration already directed federal agencies to stop programs that discussed “white privilege” or “critical race theory.”
She said she thinks some clients who have ties to federal contracts “were worried about the impact of that and the implications” of working with her company, which she noted has been critical of the Trump administration and is not one to shy away from the tougher conversations around diversity.
“We’re going in there talking about white supremacy culture. We’re talking about anti-racism. We’re talking about anti-Blackness,” Kim said.
Kim said the Trump administration wants to make subject matters like these as “diluted, ambiguous and indirect as possible so that it doesn’t make people feel like they are being vilified,” which, she added, is “also not the goal of these talks … or workshops.”
Rescinding the order, Kim said, should be a priority for the Biden administration, because “without talking about and understanding how racist systems and structures function” people will not “be able to truly solve” issues like climate change and the ongoing pandemic, which disproportionately affects minorities.
Ajmel Quereshi, senior counsel at the NAACP Legal Defense Fund, one of a number of civil rights groups that have launched legal challenges against Trump’s order, called the executive action “one of the most outrageous and discriminatory things that the Trump administration has done while it’s been in office.”
“However, because it’s an executive order, any new administration coming in, including the Biden administration, would have the ability to rescind the executive order on day one,” Quereshi said.
Until the order is undone, Quereshi said the civil rights group will “absolutely” press ahead with its lawsuit.