Updated: Jan 4
PRESIDENT TRUMP’S PERVERSE EQUITY GAG ORDER IS ANTITHETICAL TO RACIAL PROGRESS AND A ‘MORE PERFECT UNION’
Labeling anti-racist and anti-sexist training as “un-American,” the Trump Administration’s “Executive Order on Combating Race and Sex Stereotyping” has placed a gag order on diversity, inclusion and equity work, as well as discussions of racism, sexism, and structural violence more broadly.
On September 4th, the Trump Administration took action to stop workplace training sessions that have been given to federal employees to help them recognize racism, sexism, and white privilege, and to help them understand the value of diversity in the workplace. The scope of this ban was greatly expanded on September 22nd, when the president signed an “Executive Order on Combating Race and Sex Stereotyping.”
The Executive Order reflects the formal adoption of a twisted ideology that treats anti-racism as racism against white people, treats feminism as sexism against men, and seeks to extinguish anti-racist and anti-sexist training from federal agencies. What started in the racist, sexist fringe is now being embraced and promoted by the federal government. In the president’s words, “Critical race theory, the 1619 Project, and the crusade against American history is toxic propaganda, ideological poison that, if not removed, will dissolve the civic bonds that tie us together. It will destroy our country.” These actions, and this rhetoric, by the president serve as an Equity Gag Order, a direct attack on our nation’s racial progress at precisely the moment when the country is eager to move forward and create the “more perfect union” envisioned by our nation’s founders.
Those found in violation of the Executive Order face harsh consequences including termination, suspension, or debarment from federal contracting. By coercing the federal workforce, contractors, and grant recipients to not see, speak about, or contest racism and sexism, the Equity Gag Order effectively polices and muzzles social justice discourse while ensuring the financial ruin of scholars, activists, and anyone who wants to learn and teach the true histories of racism, sexism, and white supremacy in the United States.
The ban extends to workplace training or education that is meant to bring awareness to discrimination and inequities based on sex. Rather than addressing the harmful effects of stereotyping and societal exclusion on women, LGBTQ+ peoples, and intersectionally marginalized communities, the order leverages the might and financial resources of the federal government against programs that attempt to better understand, mitigate, or remedy structural oppression. As a result, we all lose out on educational opportunities to improve America as opposed to this administration’s use of fear tactics, bullying, and the instigation of racial conflict.
The damage of Trump’s Equity Gag Order is widespread. In less than two months, its chilling effects have already been felt across various sectors, including academic institutions and the public health sector. Individuals reported canceled, altered, or halted programming or procedures at federal agencies, government contractors, universities, and non-profit organizations in more than 35 states. Recent AAPF data suggests that more than 300 organizations report trainings canceled and other disruptions due to the Equity Gag Order.
This backlash against anti-racist and gender equity work has occurred at nearly all federal agencies, including the military branches; the Departments of Education, Defense, Health and Human Services, Interior, and Veterans Affairs; the Center for Disease Control; the Environmental Protection Agency; the National Endowment for the Arts; the National Institute of Health; the National Nuclear Security Agency; the National Security Administration; and in municipal governments. Here are a few examples:
An AAPF survey respondent stated: “[O]n a recent call with [a grant review officer from a government-funded health research agency], we were informed that we could not use specific terms related to Critical Race Theory, white supremacy, white privilege, etc in our specific aims page or proposals. It was communicated to us that there were entities who were reviewing proposals for these terms and would throw them out if identified.”
The Department of Justice suspended all diversity and inclusion training for its employees and managers. Despite the Air Force’s recent commitment to address racial disparities and the lack of diversity following the murder of George Floyd, the service announced that they will identify and cancel contracts that could be considered violations of the new Trump restrictions.
At least three institutions of higher education, including the University of Iowa and Texas State University, paused all diversity training to review compliance and decide what changes will need to be made to maintain federal funding. Responses to our survey suggest that the number of colleges and universities impacted is far larger than publicly reported.
A Diversity and Inclusion professional reported that as a result of the Equity Gag Order: “We have changed language to avoid specific words/phrases. It has diluted the impetus behind diversity and anti-racist work, which was already tenuous. Trainings have been cancelled/put on hold. Review of current documents is underway, and future presentations are also slotted for review. Conversations feel tense since there is a sense that someone [may] attend a meeting and report that the memo wasn't followed. In writing up funding opportunities, we avoid specific words/language.”
Not only does this Equity Gag Order inflict undue financial harm and censorship on individuals or government trainers, it also has consequences for those uniquely impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic. For example, a Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) workshop scheduled for early September was targeted for cancellation as a result of the September 4th memo because it would examine correlations and connections between systemic racism and deaths from COVID-19 and police violence. Clearly, this issue is not isolated to any one industry or occupation. How can we challenge racism in healthcare, the workplace, or education if we cannot name it?
The Trump Administration’s new snitch line to report trainings in violation of the order exacerbates a climate of fear and uncertainty, encouraging broad self-censorship for any facilitated discussion that broaches discrimination based on race or sex. One can only wonder where we would be as a nation had such aggressive efforts been made available to enhance equity rather than stunt it.
The Equity Gag Order’s impact will extend far beyond the upcoming election. It is more than just training and workshops that are under attack. All of us who stand for social justice are in the crosshairs: from the White House down to the State House; in our federal workplaces; in our military; in our corporations; and in our academic institutions. AAPF understands that unless we take immediate action, the damage from the ban will only continue to grow and set back the country’s racial progress further.
We ask for your support as we fight back against ongoing racism from the Trump White House. You can stand with us to repeal the Equity Gag Order, by: