LGBT and civil rights groups were not surprised by reports that President Donald Trump may sign an anti-LGBT executive order on “religious liberty” on Thursday.
In fact, they’re already prepared to take legal action.
On a press call Wednesday morning, Human Rights Campaign legal director Sarah Warbelow said that “there is every indication that President Trump may issue an executive order creating a broad license to discriminate as early as tomorrow.”
“Obviously we need to see what it says but if it resembles the leaked executive order—if it’s going to harm LGBT individuals and women and religious minorities—we will absolutely be filing suit,” American Civil Liberties Union senior staff attorney Brigitte Amiri added on that same call.
In early February, there was widespread speculation that Trump would sign an anti-LGBT “religious freedom” executive order at the National Prayer Breakfast on February 2.
An apparent draft of that executive order was leaked to The Nation, with Sarah Posner reporting that it would “create wholesale exemptions” in various forms of anti-discrimination legislation for “people and organizations who claim religious or moral objections to same-sex marriage, premarital sex, abortion, and trans identity.”
That fear-reaching draft was widely condemned by LGBT and civil rights groups as a “license to discriminate” but it was never signed. There have been scattered reports ever since that it is “still coming” in some form. This week, that speculation came to a head.
Politico reported on Monday that “two senior administration officials” confirmed Trump would go through with a plan to sign an executive order pertaining to “religious liberty” on Thursday—the National Day of Prayer—but those officials said that the draft was still being polished and reviewed.
Citing unnamed sources, Politico relayed that Vice President Mike Pence and a team of social conservatives have been “working behind the scenes to revise the language” of the original draft, which remains “strong.” (The White House did not immediately respond to the Daily Beast’s request for comment on the media reports.)
The Human Rights Campaign, however, has not seen a copy of the new version of the executive order. (“We have not seen anything since the February leaked draft,” said Warbelow on Thursday morning’s press call, confirming that they do not yet know how closely the rumored executive order will resemble the version published by The Nation.)
But the original version of the draft was so sweeping, said National LGBTQ Task Force executive director Rea Carey in a statement, that if it was “even half accurate, it will be a truly devastating day for American freedoms.”
LGBT and civil rights groups are poised to challenge the executive order if it does indeed materialize. In fact, on Wednesday afternoon, LGBT and women’s rights groups already gathered outside of the White House to protest the expected executive order—which, as Posner noted in her reporting on the leaked February draft, could also impact “access to contraception and abortion through the Affordable Care Act.”
ACLU deputy legal director Louise Melling had promised in a statement on Tuesday night that “if President Trump signs an executive order that attempts to provide a license to discriminate against women or LGBT people, we will see him in court.” And LGBT legal advocacy organization Lambda Legal fellow Yuvraj Joshi used a Mean Girls GIF to signal their attorneys’ willingness to take action.
More formally, Lambda Legal senior counsel Camilla Taylor told BuzzFeed News Tuesday that they are “prepared to sue in a very short timeframe if the executive order closely resembles the leaked drafts.
For LGBT rights groups, the rumored executive order would be the latest in a string of anti-LGBT actions from the Trump administration. In late January—in response to speculation that Trump would rescind President Obama’s 2014 executive order protecting LGBT federal contractors—the White House released a statement claiming that President Trump is “respectful and supportive of LGBTQ rights” and that he is “determined to protect the rights of all Americans, including the LGBTQ community.”
Since then, however, the Trump administration has rescinded President Obama’s guidance on transgender students; announced that “sexual orientation and gender identity” would not be included in the 2020 census, as LGBT rights groups had hoped would occur; removed LGBT-related questions from two federal surveys distributed to the elderly; withdrawn legal challenges in which the federal government was slated to protect transgender rights; and appointed various officials with a history of making anti-LGBT comments.
In a statement, Mara Keisling, Executive Director of the National Center for Transgender Equality, said: “For a little more than 100 days, the President has stood on the side of discrimination time and again, from his radical appointees to the signing of one sweeping and shameful executive order after another. And each an egregious attempt to establish discrimination as the law of the land, by fiat.”