LGBTQ+ community centers and advocacy organizations around the country have brought a lawsuit against the Trump administration challenging a recent executive order that has been criticized as yet another attack on marginalized communities.

Executive Order 13950, which was issued in September, threatens to defund federal contractors and grantees that engage in diversity trainings or any work that acknowledges systemic discrimination in the United States. In a 53-page complaint filed in the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California on Monday, LGBTQ+ organizations like the Los Angeles LGBT Center, SAGE, and the AIDS Foundation of Chicago argue that the order is unconstitutional on the basis that it violates freedom of speech protections under the First Amendment.

The suit seeks for the court to declare the order unconstitutional and block its further implementation.

“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 complaint reads.

Plaintiffs include The Diversity Center in Santa Cruz, CrescentCare in New Orleans, Louisiana; and Bradbury-Sullivan LGBT Community Center in Allentown, Pennsylvania. They are represented by Lambda Legal and Ropes and Gray LLP.

The order specifically bans discussion of “divisive concepts,” which the lawsuit notes is broadly and ambiguously defined. According to its text, that term includes the beliefs that the U.S. is fundamentally racist or sexist, that individuals bear responsibility for “actions committed in the past by other members of the same race or sex,” and that “any individual should feel discomfort, guilt, anguish, or any other form of psychological distress on account of his or her race or sex.”

The order also calls for the establishment of a hotline through the Department of Labor (DOL) to report violations.

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The suit claims that these regulations had an immediate “chilling effect” on the federal government and the agencies with which it contracts. It cites an incident in which a staff member with SAGE, a New York City-based organization which provides resources to LGBTQ+ older adults, was scheduled to participate in a webinar series in partnership with a federal veterans’ health office. The series would have focused on addressing diversity among aging veterans in order to improve their quality of healthcare but was cancelled on the basis of the order.

The Bradbury-Sullivan Center, meanwhile, received a five-year grant funded by the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) which necessitates providing trainings on “promising practices and evidence-based strategies” regarding LGBTQ+ tobacco disparities in Pennsylvania. However, the complaint states that it would be impossible for the Bradbury-Sullivan Center to conduct said trainings without discussing the systemic discrimination which causes such health disparities.

The complaint also states that because of the vagueness of the order, the Bradbury-Sullivan Center worries that “simply relating a personal narrative, or acknowledging the existence of systemic racism” could potentially cause someone to call the DOL hotline, causing it to lose its funding.

This threat to the vital services provided by these organizations and many others comes during a time in which LGBTQ+ groups are fighting three epidemics: COVID-19, HIV/AIDS, and an epidemic of violence perpetrated against Black people by law enforcement,” said Camilla Taylor, director of constitutional litigation at Lambda Legal, in a statement.

Taylor added that the plaintiffs “are committed to ending these epidemics.” “The work they do saves lives,” she said. “But to do it, and do it effectively, they have to train people about the role of implicit bias in contributing to disparities, and explicitly acknowledge and confront systemic racism, sexism, and anti-LGBT bias. President Trump wants to silence them, but they refuse to be silenced. The LGBT community knows all too well that silence equals death.”

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