More than 50 House Democrats will send a letter to Speaker Paul Ryan on Thursday asking why the House’s new sexual harassment and discrimination training leaves out issues of sexual orientation and gender identity.
In a letter to Ryan, first obtained by BuzzFeed News, the members, led by Wisconsin Rep. Mark Pocan, claim they were told that sexual orientation and gender identity were purposely left out of the training, which is mandatory for members and staff. The training is a product of the #MeToo movement and came about as the House sought to update the way sexual harassment is dealt with on the Hill.
“Despite a stated objective of the training — to decrease harassment and discrimination — the program omits any discussion of discrimination in the workplace based on real or perceived sexual orientation or gender identity,” Democrats wrote in the letter, which is expected to be delivered to Ryan later Thursday. “We are especially concerned that the omission of content on this subject may be a deliberate decision rather than a simple oversight.”
The letter states that a member who inquired about the omission was “told that the program facilitators were directed to explicitly exclude guidance about discrimination based on sexual orientation or gender identity as part of the training.”
In addition to Ryan, the letter is addressed to Rep. Gregg Harper, the chair of the House Administration Committee, which has established new guidance on harassment and discrimination on Capitol Hill in response to the #MeToo movement. A spokesperson for Ryan referred BuzzFeed News to the House Administration Committee, which “set forth the training.”
A spokesperson for the committee said that they had not yet received the letter. The spokesperson noted that the House had unanimously passed a resolution to set up the trainings, but did not answer specifically whether gender identity and sexual orientation were purposely left out of the training.
A Democratic member who has taken the training confirmed to BuzzFeed News that this was not addressed in the training.
“It’s a huge hole,” the member said. “It’s a bizarre omission, to say the least.”
In their letter, Democrats are calling on Ryan and Harper to add information on discrimination related to sexual orientation and gender identity for future trainings. “Whether this decision was intentional or inadvertent, it is critical for the well-being of this institution and its employees that the programming is amended to include a discussion of these issues,” the members wrote.
The Congressional Accountability Act prohibits discrimination on the basis of race, color, religion, sex, national origin, disability, and age. According to the Office of Compliance, which handles workplace issues on Capitol Hill, “recent case law has provided a basis for [congressional] employees to pursue allegations of workplace discrimination based on sexual orientation or gender identity” as well.
The House passed the bipartisan resolution in November that requires all members and employees to complete the harassment training within 180 days after the start of this year’s congressional session, which began on Jan. 3.