Biden Reverses Trump Executive Order Banning Diversity Training

March 17, 2021

Last September, President Trump issued an executive order that directly threatened the ongoing efforts to address racial disparities in the workplace, It affected government agencies, nonprofits, and any other institution that had federal contracts or plans to apply for them. The stated purpose of the order was to “combat offensive and anti-American race and sex stereotyping.”

But in reality, this “equity gag order” aimed to censor the use of language that fell within the vague definitions of “divisive concepts” and “race and sex scapegoating.” Targeting the teachings of critical race theory specifically, the order had a “chilling effect on free speech and the dissemination of truthful information about systemic and structural inequalities, which undermines workplace equality for people of color, women, and LGBTQ individuals.”

In response, civil rights groups, including the NAACP Legal Defense Fund, filed yet another lawsuit in October stating that the executive order violated free speech, due process, and equal protection clauses of the Constitution. The lawsuit called attention to how this gag order was an “extraordinary and unprecedented act by the Trump administration to undermine efforts to foster diversity and inclusion in the workplace.” In a later conversation with The New York Times, CRS co-founder and core faculty member Kimberlé Crenshaw pointed out that “[t]he commitment to free speech seems to dissipate when the people who are being gagged are folks who are demanding racial justice.”

Last winter, UCLA Law alum and associate Director-Counsel of the NAACP LDF, Janai Nelson ’96, issued a statement highlighting that “[t]he anti-truth and anti-diversity Executive Order is one of the most damaging and dangerous actions undertaken by the Trump administration. We witnessed firsthand the harrowing ramifications of the ideology behind this order […], as white supremacists charged the Capitol building in a flagrant and violent attempt to undermine the democratic process and our republican form of government.”

Lisa Rice, President and CEO of the National Fair Housing Alliance, added, “Racism lies at the core of every insurrection mounted against our nation. [The] […] insurrection at the Capitol, fueled by years of President Trump’s lies and racist and incendiary statements, underscores the need now more than ever to educate everyone about discrimination and our ongoing battle with systemic prejudice and bias driven by our country’s most powerful structures.”

Though the organization was prepared to proceed with litigation and see the order fully rescinded, the NAACP LDF had every hope President Biden would rescind the order. Nelson herself called on the Biden administration to revoke the Trump order and issue a new one that would help “restore and, more importantly, advance diversity, equity, and inclusion efforts in the workplace.”

On Jan. 20, during his first day in office, Biden did just as Nelson had hoped. The executive order, “Advancing Racial Equity and Support for Underserved Communities Through the Federal Government,” revoked the curtailed trainings for federal agencies and contractors. The order not only rescinded the diversity training restrictions but also required all agencies to prioritize and create opportunities for communities that have been historically underserved: “By advancing equity across the federal government, we can create opportunities for the improvement of communities that have been historically underserved, which benefits everyone.”

Though welcome, Biden’s executive order is but a first step in working to undo the depth of problems caused by the Trump administration.

In response to the revocation, Nelson released the following statement: “We applaud the Biden-Harris administration’s swift revocation of this divisive and harmful Executive Order on its first day in office and are encouraged by its commitment to embedding equity in all aspects of federal government and removing barriers to equal opportunity for all communities. We will continue to work to ensure that all vestiges of President Trump’s Executive Order are removed from workplaces across the country. There is much work ahead to undo the previous administration’s four years of damage to the institutions of our democracy, the everyday lives of Americans, and the very fabric of our nation.”

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