After the election of Donald Trump as president, the Washington Blade began reaching out to LGBT federal employees for comment, including leaders of the various affinity groups for LGBT staffers. What we found is that almost no one would agree to talk on the record, fearing retribution by their new bosses under Trump.
The subject of this interview is a gay male federal government employee who has worked for two Cabinet-level federal agencies during his career with the government. The Blade agreed to grant him anonymity so he could speak freely.
He is out to his co-workers and supervisors and is an active member of the LGBT employee group in the agency in which he currently works. He served as president of the LGBT employee group at another federal agency he worked for in the past. Yet he spoke to the Blade only on the condition that his name and the name of the agencies for which he has worked not be identified.
Blade: How long have you been working for the federal government?
Federal Employee: It has been 13 years.
Blade: Have you been involved with an LGBT group at an agency you worked for?
Federal Employee: Correct. I was the president from [the last years of the George W. Bush administration and the beginning of the Obama administration]. So I definitely was doing that during the Bush administration.
Blade: Can you tell a little about what your LGBT colleagues at [your agency] think is going to happen when the Trump administration takes office?
Federal Employee: To be honest — and I’m sure this is true for most of the community — people are concerned. And there are people that are frightened. They’re worried about what does this mean moving forward.
When I was at [a federal agency during the Bush administration] a lot of people went back in the closet…And I think that’s what we’re all so really concerned about here going forward.
If you’re looking at the history [of Trump’s appointments so far] and their legislative priorities they’re not the most friendly to our community in any way shape or form. So I think there are a lot of questions. The other part is there are a lot of unknowns. We don’t know who our [agency head] is going to be right now.
And even then I think we have to keep in mind there has been a lot of movement in society that is much more supportive of LGBT individuals. And there’s also still a lot of opportunity for those progresses to be rolled back if they really make it a priority.
Obviously that’s a role of LGBT employee organizations — to advocate on behalf of our employees. And we’ll continue to do that. But I would say there’s a lot of unknowns right now. There’s a lot of concern. There’s a lot of fear…
So it really depends on how things shake out. But as I said, the main concerns that we have as an employee organization is making sure that the policies we have implemented over the last eight years that really bring the American dream more in line with making this a land equal and free for everyone, including our LGBT brothers and sisters, that we want that to continue.
And we also want our employees to feel safe, right? We don’t want them working in an environment where they feel that they aren’t free from intimidation or retribution or any of those types of things. So those are the real priorities that we have to make sure that the things we have in the last eight or nine years continue to be in place. And then also that we’re sure that our employees are respected and feel safe and that they’re a part of the greater [federal agency] family.
Blade: Aren’t gay, lesbian, and bisexual federal employees right now protected under a non-discrimination executive order issued by President Clinton and a new order issued by President Obama to include transgender employees?
Federal Employee: That was my understanding, yes.
Blade: Could Trump rescind those?
Federal Employee: Potentially, right? He simply could issue a new order that just leaves those out. That is what a lot of governors have done in the past when they come in to a situation very similar to this. When they reissue the order they just omit those words unless they are a protected EEO class. And obviously we’re not. So that is a concern that we have.
I do think culturally it has shifted a lot. It’s not as much of a lightning rod issue as it was say in 2004. But that’s not to say there aren’t people who would like to see that revert back.
Blade: Trump’s gay supporters say he has made some supportive statements on LGBT issues. But we don’t know how that will play out in federal agencies.
Federal Employee: Right, because at the end of the day is Donald Trump going to be reviewing every single EEO statement? Probably not. That’s why it’s so important to see who they are actually going to be appointing and in which positions before we can start making what I would consider concrete judgments and plans of action moving forward.
Blade: What is your understanding of steps a federal employee can take if he or she believes they are being mistreated by their boss or being subjected to discrimination? Is there a grievance process?
Federal Employee: There is. In those situations you would need to work with EEO on this and there are a couple of different pathways. One would be a dispute resolution pathway where the EEO office provides an intermediary. There’s the formal complaint process where a formal complaint is filed, it is reviewed and there is usually some form of adjudication and a form of resolution is reached.
Blade: What are you planning to do in light of all this? Would you like to stay with the federal civil service?
Federal Employee: Yeah, that’s my plan … Now that’s like hopeful and optimistic. I’m not saying there might not be some flash points along the way. But I really believe in the mission of working for the federal government. So that’s why I want to keep doing that and I want to keep making sure what I do has like an actual impact on people’s lives. And I think it does. So that’s why I work for what I do. And I also firmly believe that we are a better employee if we’re showing up for work as a fully out and aware individual and proud of that, right?
And we need to make sure we are providing that environment and opportunity for everyone regardless of how they identify to do that as an employee. So in many regards I’m hopeful, but I’m also cautious. And I’m carefully reserving judgment to see what happens until these people are confirmed and in place and start laying out what it is they hope to see as their vision.
Blade: But unlike most of your colleagues, your role as president of an LGBT employee group puts you out there, right?
Federal Employee: Yeah.
Blade: Do the agency heads know about the group and who the officers are?
Federal Employee: Oh yes. I mean we are a member of the Diversity Council. Yeah, we’re out there. We’re well known for better or for worse, right? So it will be interesting to see what happens next. You are correct that clearly I’m out there. But I’ve always believed that this is who I am. And if they really want to make it into a fight like firing me because I’m gay then I have no qualms about making it into an issue there. I just don’t think that will happen. And maybe that’s me being a product of the age that I’m at.
Actually, I’ve always had very supportive supervisors and directors that are above me. And I still feel that way here at [the federal agency]. My supervisors still very much support me… And that speaks a lot to how the culture has shifted. But also we have a distance to go. The fact that we’re even talking about this as a possibility I think shows there is real concern in people’s lives and their professional careers to see whether or not they’re going to be hunted because they are out or if they are going to be held back or passed over for a promotion because of those very reasons.