April 5, 2012 | by Chris Johnson
Latino civil rights group endorses ENDA exec order

An organization known as the “law firm for the Latino community” has become the first non-LGBT civil rights group to announce support for an executive order that would require federal contractors to have LGBT-inclusive non-discrimination policies.

In a letter dated April 5, Thomas Saenz, president of the Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund, or MALDEF, calls on President Obama to take administrative action to prohibit companies that do business with the U.S. government from discriminating on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity.

“I write to urge you to build on your successful ‘We Can’t Wait’ initiative in one concrete way,” Saenz said. “Specifically, MALDEF asks that you sign an executive order to ban federal contractors from engaging in workplace discrimination against lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) individuals, including LGBT Latinos.”

Saenz urges the president to issue the order because the Employment Non-Discrimination Act, legislation that would bar job bias against LGBT people, has stalled in Congress for years.

“In recent years, multiple Congresses have failed to pass the Employment Non-Discrimination Act (ENDA), which would ban workplace bias based on actual or perceived sexual orientation or gender identity,” Saenz writes. “MALDEF believes the time is now right to promote workplace fairness for LGBT individuals by taking strong executive action.”

Making the case for the order, Saenz recalls that previous presidents — from Franklin Roosevelt to Bill Clinton — have issued executive orders barring workplace discrimination. He also cites the military contractor DynCorp LLC, which  implemented an LGBT-inclusive non-discrimination policy after it came under scrutiny for anti-gay harassment on the job; and he notes that top government contractors, such as Lockheed Martin, Raytheon and Boeing already have such policies in place.

Since the executive order is similar in its goal to ENDA, the directive has sometimes been referred to as the “ENDA” executive order. However, the order would be more limited in scope because it only affects federal contractors.

Multiple sources, speaking on condition of anonymity, have told the Blade the Labor and Justice Departments have cleared such a measure, but the White House has remained silent on whether it will take such action. A White House spokesperson didn’t immediately respond to a request for comment on the letter.

Since its founding in 1968, MALDEF has aimed to promote social change in the areas of education, employment and immigrant rights. One victory came in 1982, when a MALDEF-backed lawsuit known as Plyler v. Doe prompted the Supreme Court to strike down a Texas law that allowed school districts to charge children tuition if their parents were undocumented immigrants.The organization has also won legal victories to make the drawing of Texas congressional districts more fair to the Latino community.

MALDEF has also taken part in helping advance LGBT rights. The organization has filed “friend-of-the-court” briefs in favor of overturning California’s Proposition 8 and is part of a coalition supporting the repeal of the Defense of Marriage Act. MALDEF has worked to support passage of the Uniting American Families Act, which would allow gay Americans to sponsor their foreign spouses for residency in the United States, and was among the first organizations to stand with Immigration Equality in calling for the passage of LGBT-inclusive comprehensive immigration reform legislation.

According to polling made public last week by the Human Rights Campaign, Latinos across America strongly support of the executive order. The poll, which found 73 percent of Americans support the directive, also found the order polls at 72 percent among likely Latino voters in the 2012 election.

Additionally, the letter comes on the heels of the publication Thursday of the Pew Hispanic Center’s 2011 National Survey of Latinos poll showing 59 percent of Hispanic voters believe homosexuality should “be accepted by society.” According to the report, the data is in line with the general public. Among the public at large, 58 precent say homosexuality should be accepted.

The letter makes the group the first non-LGBT civil rights organization to endorse the executive order, but not the first non-LGBT group. Last fall, the United Electrical, Radio and Machine Workers of America, which bills itself as an organization for “rank and file” workers adopted a pro-LGBT resolution that includes support for an executive order protecting LGBT people against workplace discrimination. Mary Kay Henry, a lesbian and president of the Service Employees International Union, endorsed the order in an interview with the Washington Blade in June during Netroots Nation.

Support for the idea of the executive order is building. Earlier this week, a group of 72 U.S. House members sent a letter to Obama calling on him to issue the directive, saying the measure would ”extend important workplace protections to millions of Americans, while at the same time laying the groundwork for Congressional passage of the Employment Non-Discrimination Act .” Rep Frank Pallone (D-N.J.), who drafted the letter, distributed it among colleagues.

Chris Johnson is Chief Political & White House Reporter for the Washington Blade. Johnson attends the daily White House press briefings and is a member of the White House Correspondents' Association. Follow Chris

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  • Ban federal contractors from engaging in workplace discrimination against lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) individuals, including LGBT Latinos.”

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