Lambda Legal Files Federal Lawsuit on Behalf of Allentown LGBT Center

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On Nov. 23, President-elect Joe Biden and Vice President-elect Kamala Harris released a partial list of Cabinet members and other key personnel choices for their incoming administration. It is a list that is reflective of America’s demographics — inclusive of women and people of color.

Biden has said he wants his administration to “look like America.” That inclusivity is the antithesis of the Trump administration, which has targeted women, people of color and LGBTQ people in policy and actions. Those actions continue into the waning days of the outgoing administration, including a recent executive order banning diversity training.

Lambda Legal has filed a federal lawsuit challenging the Trump administration’s executive order, which also prohibits engaging in grant-funded work that explicitly acknowledges and confronts the existence of structural racism and sexism in the U.S. The executive order, issued in September, describes trainings that cover topics such as implicit bias or critical race theory as divisive and un-American, and it directs agencies to suspend or deny funding to contractors and grantees whose trainings or grant-funded activities cover these topics.

Allentown’s Bradbury-Sullivan LGBT Community Center is a plaintiff in the lawsuit challenging the ban.

“Bradbury-Sullivan LGBT Community Center cannot compromise the quality or content of the training we provide. That’s why we are seeking an injunction to stop President Trump’s Executive Order banning diversity training from going into effect,” said Adrian Shanker, the center’s executive director.

The Trump administration’s Executive Order 13950 is explicit in its attempts to quell movements predicated on equality.

“Many people are pushing a vision of America that is grounded in hierarchies based on collective social and political identities rather than in the inherent and equal dignity of every person as an individual,” the executive order states.

The order re-frames the actual victims of gender and racial bias into perpetrators, stating, “This ideology is rooted in the pernicious and false belief that America is an irredeemably racist and sexist country; that some people, simply on account of their race or sex, are oppressors; and that racial and sexual identities are more important than our common status as human beings and Americans.”

The complaint states in part, “For reasons of ideology and partisan advantage, President Donald J. Trump and others in his administration have labeled trainings and grant-funded work that incorporate such concepts ‘offensive’ and ‘un-American’ for calling attention to the lamentable extent to which the nation still fails to live up to its ideals. The president has declared by fiat that the country is not racist or sexist, and has sought to silence speech calling out these failings.”

Omar Gonzalez-Pagan, senior attorney at Lambda Legal said, “The Trump administration has been characterized by its disdain of everyone it considers an other, and its efforts to squash the truth. Even as the sun sets on it, this administration seeks to suppress the truth about the harms of systemic racism and sexism, and implicit bias.”

He added, “We are under no illusions as to the long-term damage the Trump administration can inflict on its way out the door. Cutting federal funding now for organizations on the front line combatting COVID-19, HIV/AIDS, and the violence perpetrated on Black and Brown people by law enforcement — epidemics linked by their disproportionate impact on communities of color — would severely restrict their ability to protect people from harm and deliver critical services at a time when those services are needed more than ever.”

Trump administration guidance labels the discussion of intersectionality, critical race theory, white privilege, systemic racism, or implicit or unconscious bias in diversity training as “race and sex scapegoating” and forbids agencies from “promot[ing]” these “divisive concepts.”

The order describes such trainings as un-American, directs agency heads to audit internal training curricula and discontinue these trainings, to conduct a similar audit of federal contractors, and to suspend or deny funding to contractors and grantees whose trainings or grant-funded activities cover these topics.

Lambda Legal’s lawsuit challenges the ban and was filed in the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California on behalf of Bradbury-Sullivan LGBT Community Center, and other plaintiffs. Plaintiffs are seeking a preliminary injunction to prevent the Trump administration from implementing the order and cutting funding for federal contractors.

“Our clients are already being harmed by the administration’s actions, having trainings canceled and federal funding withdrawn,” said Karen L. Loewy, one of the Lambda Legal team.

She said, “We brought the case because the critical, life-saving work of our plaintiffs–LGBT community centers, health care providers, HIV/AIDS service organizations, advocates for LGBT seniors, and a consultancy working in the juvenile and criminal justice systems–depends on being able to train people about the role of implicit bias in contributing to disparities, and to explicitly acknowledge and confront systemic racism, sexism, and anti-LGBT bias.”

The lawsuit stipulates that the executive order violates the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution by violating the plaintiffs’ right to freedom of speech and the Fifth Amendment’s due process clause because the order is “unconstitutionally vague.”

In addition to Bradbury-Sullivan LGBT Community Center, plaintiffs are B. Brown Consulting, Dr. Ward Carpenter, Los Angeles LGBT Center; The Diversity Center in Santa Cruz, CA; AIDS Foundation of Chicago; CrescentCare in New Orleans, LA; and SAGE, based in New York City. Plaintiffs are represented pro-bono by Lambda Legal and Ropes & Gray.