LGBT advocates praised the initiatives President Obama set forth in his jobs speech Thursday night — even though his address made no direct reference to the lack of federal job protections for LGBT people.
Speaking before a joint session of Congress, Obama unveiled a $447 billion plan — dubbed the American Jobs Act — that aims to stimulate the economy through payroll tax cuts, tax breaks for companies hiring new workers, funds for infrastructure development and regulatory reform.
“The people of this country work hard to meet their responsibilities,” Obama said. “The question tonight is whether we’ll meet ours. The question is whether, in the face of an ongoing national crisis, we can stop the political circus and actually do something to help the economy; whether we can restore some of the fairness and security that has defined this nation since our beginning.”
Whether Congress will be able to pass Obama’s plan — or any jobs initiative — remains to be seen. So far this year, Congress and the White House argued until the absolute deadline to pass a resolution to keep funding the U.S. government for the remainder of fiscal year 2011, and again bickered until the last possible day to come an agreement to raise the nation’s debt ceiling and avoid default on the country’s financial obligations.
Questions also persist regarding Obama’s approach to paying for his $447 billion initiative. The president is calling on the congressional “Super Committee” established by the debt deal to come up with the additional deficit reduction needed to pay for the measure in addition to meeting an already established target of $1.5 trillion in deficit reduction.
One problem with job security that Obama didn’t mention in his speech was the lack of federal non-discrimination protections faced by LGBT Americans in the workplace. Firing someone for being gay is legal in 29 states and firing someone for being transgender is legal in 35 states.
Obama campaigned on passage of the Employment Non-Discrimination Act — legislation that would bar such job bias against LGBT people in the public and private workforce — but the bill has languished for years and didn’t even see a committee vote in the last Congress when Democrats were in control of both the House and Senate.
No mention of ENDA or the lack of federal workplace protections for LGBT people was included in the president’s remarks.
Shin Inouye, a White House spokesperson, said the president continues to support ENDA, but the purpose of his speech was to address the larger jobs crisis faced by all Americans.
“On Thursday, the President announced that he is sending to Congress the American Jobs Act — a set of ideas supported by both Democrats and Republicans that Congress must pass right away,” Inouye said. “The purpose of the American Jobs Act is simple: put more people back to work and put more money in the pockets of working Americans, including LGBT Americans. The President has long supported an inclusive ENDA, but Thursday’s remarks were about the American Jobs Act, and not everything we support.”
Despite the lack of any explicit mention, LGBT advocates praised the plan Obama unveiled on Thursday and said the policies would benefit all Americans — including LGBT people.
Mara Keisling, executive director of the National Center for Transgender Equality, said Obama’s proposals would be “very positive” for LGBT Americans and transgender people in particular.
Keisling said Obama’s proposal to offer a tax credit of up to $4,000 to companies that hire potential workers searching for a job for more than six months is particularly important to transgender workers.
“We are disproportionately likely to be among the long-term unemployed and disproportionately likely to have faced recessionary discrimination during this current downturn,” Keisling said. “So $4,000 job credits for employers who hire long-term unemployed and prohibiting discrimination against long-term unemployed will be especially helpful and important.”
Keisling said a specific mention of LGBT issues in the speech wouldn’t have been a relevant point for Obama during his remarks.
“It was not at all inappropriate that he did not specifically mention support for specific LGBT priorities,” she said. “It wasn’t that kind of speech.”
Selisse Berry, executive director of the San Francisco-based Out & Equal Workplace Advocates, commended Obama for setting a goal for businesses to be innovative leaders and said companies can achieve the goal by embracing diversity, including LGBT people.
“America’s most successful businesses are doing just that through their policies and practices,” Berry said. “And the president knows the importance of diversity as well, since this administration has taken concrete steps to end discrimination against LGBT people in the federal workforce.”
Following the president’s speech, the White House issued statements from more than 40 organizations and Democratic lawmakers praising the plan. One of the statements in favor of the proposals came from Mary Kay Henry, a lesbian and president of the Service Employees International Union.
“President Obama displayed the leadership America needs by laying out a strong agenda to get America back to work,” Henry said. “The proposals he outlined are an excellent starting point in the crucial effort to create good jobs now.”
Henry called on Congress to take action and said Americans are watching Republicans closely to see if they’ll “play politics” or take action to turn around what she called the national jobs crisis.
“The Republicans’ plan to further cut corporate taxes will do nothing to put Americans back to work, just as the recent record corporate profits have not led to job growth,” Henry said.
In another statement provided by the White House, Justin Nelson and Chance Mitchell, co-founders of the National Gay & Lesbian Chamber of Commerce, spoke out in favor of Obama’s plan.
“President Obama demonstrated strong leadership and clear vision addressing the joint session of Congress,” Nelson and Mitchell said. “While far too many in Washington, D.C. focus on the political horse race, the president shined the spotlight where it belongs; on the millions of Americans, many of them LGBT, who are working too hard to give their families a better life to read the latest poll numbers.”
Nelson and Mitchell took particular note of Obama’s plan to expedite payments to small businesses and to extend payroll tax cuts for these companies.
“As the president said, our recovery will not come from politicians but from businesses and talented individuals throughout the country, including those represented by the NGLCC,” Nelson and Mitchell said. “We agree that business owners need timely payments and tax incentives to pay their employees, hire new staff and invest in new opportunities.
Given the difficulties of passing ENDA with Republicans in control of the House, some LGBT advocates have been calling for an executive order that would prohibit the U.S. government from contracting with companies that don’t have non-discrimination protections for LGBT workers. Obama could take such action without concern over having to move legislation through Congress.
During his speech, Obama enumerated some initiatives he could take on his own accord without congressional involvement to improve the job situation — but an executive order for LGBT workers wasn’t among them.
“My administration can and will take some steps to improve our competitiveness on our own,” Obama said. “For example, if you’re a small business owner who has a contract with the federal government, we’re going to make sure you get paid a lot faster than you do now. We’re also planning to cut away the red tape that prevents too many rapidly-growing start-up companies from raising capital and going public.”
Additionally, Obama said his administration would work with federal housing agencies to help more people refinance their mortgages at interest rates that are now near four percent, which he said would put more than $2,000 a year in the pockets of American families.
Richard Socarides, president of Equality Matters, is among the LGBT advocates who have been calling on the president to issue such an executive order against LGBT job bias.
Even without mention of the directive, Socarides said Obama gave “a strong political and policy message.”
“It was a high-toned message and I think everyone in the LGBT community very much wants him to succeed at this, as all Americans do,” Socarides said. “And on jobs and labor issues, we will keep reminding him we still need federal protections for all LGBT workers, we still need ENDA, we still need an executive order on federal contracting. And we fully expect he will deliver for us on these, too.”