The Morning Call (Sunday)
Executive order undermines work to promote equality
There’s nothing more patriotic than telling the government to stick it when it sticks its nose where it doesn’t belong.
A prominent Lehigh Valley crusader is doing just that. You didn’t expect Alan Jennings to head toward retirement quietly, did you?
Theexecutive director of the Community Action Committee of the Lehigh Valley is standing up to the Trump administration by refusing to obey a presidential order that takes effect soon. The move puts about $6 million and many of the agency’s programs at risk, but he says it’s worth the gamble.
“It’s just the right thing to do,” Jennings, who leaves in May, told me.
He announced recently that CACLV would defy Trump’s Executive Order 13950, which prohibits federal grant recipients and organizations that provide training to federal contractors from teaching that racism and other discrimination exist.
Trump’s order bans grants to programs unless they certify that they will not promote “divisive concepts” about race and gender.
The order says America “has made significant progress” toward realizing its creed that all men are created equal. Yet many people are pushing a different vision rooted in the “false belief that America is an irredeemably racist and sexist country; that some people, simply on account of their race or sex, are oppressors; and that racial and sexual identities are more important than our common status as human beings and Americans.”
Jennings said the order is another example of the president being unwilling to feel the pain of others.
“It’s just one more illustration of how completely mean-spirited and ignorant he is about problems going on around him in the world,” he said.
“This country, this community, has a race problem. If we can be honest with ourselves for just a few minutes, it is apparent that the Lehigh Valley is segregated,” Jennings said in his announcement on Oct. 30 that his agency would ignore the edict.
“Apparently, getting the vast diversity in our communities to have productive dialogues designed to bring us together
is some kind of threat to the president’s perspective on our world. I have seen enough that I am not surprised but I despair that his perspective is so grounded in bigotry.”
CACLV fights poverty and its causes. It runs a food bank and homeless shelter and helps people buy their first homes and start businesses, among many other services. It needs to be able to recognize the reality of racial disparities. Talking about it is protected by the First Amendment, Jennings said.
He said he’d bet that lawyers would line up to defend his agency should the feds try to pull its funding.
The order takes effect Nov. 22. Hopefully, it would be on the short list of those that would be rescinded by President-elect Joe Biden.
Still, it could be in effect for a few months. Another Lehigh Valley organization, the Bradbury-Sullivan LGBT Community Center in Allentown, is suing to try to block it.
“In those two months, there’s incredible damage that could happen,” Executive Director Adrian Shanker told me Wednesday.
The center provides services to the LGBT community, including support for transgender and young people who can be at high risk of homelessness and suicide. It trains other agencies to address systemic barriers and bias in health care, education and housing based onrace, sex and LGBT status.
Under the order, Shanker said, “We can’t talk about anything that is deemed controversial or divisive.”
“In order to do our job and to do the best we can for our community, we can’t compromise our training,” he said.
His center joined similar organizations from around the country in filing the federal lawsuit.
The suit says the Bradbury-Sullivan center’s and the other agencies’ work to combat systemic barriers to equality requires discussions about historic and current systemic racism, sexism, antiLGBT bias and implicit bias.
“These tools are grounded in fact, widely accepted, tested, and embraced in the fields of public health and criminal justice as effective in overcoming these systemic barriers,” the lawsuit says.
“The president wants to suppress this speech, no matter how effective it is, or howcrucial it is to protecting vulnerable people from harm, because acknowledging these systemic barriers that threaten the lives of some people can makeothers uncomfortable.”
The American Hospital Association,
American Medical Association and the American Nurses Association also are opposed to the order. They wrote to Trump asking him to rescind it, saying it would “effectively reverse decades of progress in combating racial inequality.”
“Asour memberscontinue to battle the COVID-19 pandemic, webear witness to the disproportionate effect of COVID19 on black and brown people. Vital research conducted at the National Institutes of Health and academic centers to comprehend the effects of structural racism and implicit bias on health care and health outcomes is needed right now more than ever before. However, this research is threatened by EO13950’s unprecedented attack on scientific freedom.”
Dozens of chambers of commerce and business and nonprofits associations also oppose the order, including the Pennsylvania Association of Nonprofit Organizations. In a letter to Trump, they said they believed his order would“hinder the ability of employers to implement critical programs to promote diversity and combat discrimination in the workplace.”
Jennings said he took a calculated risk in announcing a few days before the election that he would defy the order, as he assumed Trump would lose.
He felt that taking a stand might bring even more support for his agency. I hope it does, and that it also yields support for the Bradbury-Sullivan center, too.
They perform valuable services. They shouldn’t have to waste resources pushing back onpresidential edicts that ignore reality, and would impair those services from being delivered effectively.