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LGBT advocates scared, despite White House words on equality

By Laila Kearney and Daniel Trotta

By Laila Kearney and Daniel Trotta

NEW YORK (Reuters) - Advocates said on Tuesday they were bracing for a Trump administration rollback of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender rights, despite a White House statement vowing to uphold protection for LGBT people in the workplace.U.S. President Donald Trump will continue to enforce a 2014 executive order by his Democratic predecessor, Barack Obama, barring discrimination against LGBT people working for federal contractors, the White House said.

The statement marked a break with the Republican Party's traditional stance, but advocates said they feared Trump could still take executive actions allowing discrimination under the guise of religious exemptions.

"LGBTQ people must remain on guard for attacks," said Sarah Kate Ellis, president of the civil rights group GLAAD.

Some LGBT activists were abuzz over a draft of an anti-LGBT executive order that had leaked and was circulating in Washington, expecting Trump's impending order to be unveiled in conjunction with the annual National Prayer Breakfast on Thursday.

The draft of the executive order would have eliminated non-discrimination protections for federal employees and contractors, according to a source who has seen the draft and asked not to be identified for fear of reprisals from the Trump administration.

The draft executive order also would have allowed adoption agencies that receive federal funding to deny services to LGBT parents on religious grounds, among other measures, the source said.

Reuters could not verify whether the draft was being seriously considered. When asked at Monday's press briefing about the possibility of Trump issuing an anti-LGBT executive order, Press Secretary Sean Spicer said: "There is a lot of executive orders, a lot of things that the president has talked about and will continue to fulfill, but we have nothing

on that front now."

Just as LGBT advocates geared up for a similar clash to the recent immigration controversy but on their issues, the White House issued the pro-LGBT statement, and the advocates were not easily swayed.

"The President is proud to have been the first ever GOP (Republican) nominee to mention the LGBTQ community in his nomination acceptance speech, pledging then to protect the community from violence and oppression," the White House statement said.

Trump on Friday signed an executive order to temporarily bar entry to people from seven predominantly Muslim countries, leading to large protests across the United States.

Enforcing Obama's 2014 LGBT order puts Trump at odds with many fellow Republicans, who for the most part have fought civil rights protections based on sexual orientation and gender identity. Some conservatives have softened their positions in recent years, however, particularly toward same-sex marriage.

During his presidential campaign, Trump acknowledged gay rights and called on LGBT voters to cast their ballots for him.

But by picking Indiana Governor Mike Pence, a staunch conservative Christian, as his vice president, as well as other senior officials who oppose gay rights, Trump has sent a clear message to the community, said Chad Griffin, president of Human Rights Campaign, the nation's largest lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and queer advocacy organization.

"Trump talks a big game on his support for LGBTQ people, yet he has filled his cabinet with people who have literally spent their careers working to demonize us and limit our rights," Griffin said in a statement.

LGBT leaders were anticipating a Trump announcement on filling the vacancy on the U.S. Supreme Court, set for 8 p.m. ET on Tuesday (0100 GMT on Wednesday).

Trump's nominee pick will be especially revealing about his stance on equality, said Shannon Minter, legal director for the National Center for Lesbian Rights.

"Whoever is in that seat is going to have a huge impact," Minter said. "It is so critical that the Senate not confirm any nominee who is going to roll back the clock on LGBT equality."

(Reporting by Laila Kearney and Daniel Trotta in New York and Susan Heavey and Eric Walsh in Washington; Editing by Meredith Mazzilli and Andrew Hay)

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