The Obama administration has categorically denied requests from LGBT advocates to issue an executive order protecting LGBT people against workplace discrimination at this time, according to individuals who took part in a White House meeting on Wednesday. The denial was corroborated by a senior administration official.
In a statement to the Washington Blade, Joe Solmonese, president of the Human Rights Campaign and among the attendees, said advocates were told the administration won’t take action to bar federal contractors from discriminating against LGBT workers.
“Earlier today, we were told that the administration is not ready to move forward with a federal contractor nondiscrimination executive order at this time,” Solmonese said. “We are extremely disappointed with this decision and will continue to advocate for an executive order from the president. The unfortunate truth is that hard-working Americans can be fired simply for being gay or transgender. Given the number of employees that would be covered by this executive order, it represents a critical step forward.”
Solmonese continued that extensive research and polling has been done demonstrating that the executive order would be a useful tool and would enjoy broad support.
“Ten years of HRC’s Corporate Equality Index, as well as the research of our partner organizations to include the Center for American Progress and the Williams Institute, demonstrate that there is ample rationale for this kind of order,” Solmonese said. “No similar executive order has ever had this kind of extensive research or factual basis established. While we believe that further study is unnecessary, we will continue to engage with the Administration to ensure that the case is made even stronger for workplace protections.”
Shin Inouye, a White House spokesperson, said in a statement on the meeting that Obama remains committed to legislation that would bar workplace discrimination against LGBT people known as the Employment Non-Discrimination Act.
“The president is dedicated to securing equal rights for LGBT Americans and that is why he has long supported an inclusive Employment Non-Discrimination Act (ENDA), which would prohibit employers across the country from discriminating on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity,” Inouye said. “The president is committed to lasting and comprehensive change and therefore our goal is passage of ENDA, which is a legislative solution to LGBT employment discrimination – just as the president pressed for legislative repeal of [‘Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell’].”
A senior administration official, speaking on condition of anonymity, also said the administration doesn’t expect to issue an executive order on LGBT non-discrimination for federal contractors at this time.
“We are deeply committed to working hand-in-hand with the LGBT community to enlist support from key stakeholders and other decision-makers, and to continue to engage with and educate the business community and the public more broadly about the importance of employment nondiscrimination and the importance of passing ENDA,” the official said.
Another attendee at the meeting, gay Democratic lobbyist Robert Raben, corroborated that advocates were told the executive order wouldn’t happen, but the goal of the meeting was more to explore ways that the administration could address workplace discrimination facing LGBT Americans — primarily through legislative means.
“For me, it was a conversation about very, very interested and committed people about what the administration could be doing to make the case for … protections of people in the employment context,” Raben said. “What could they be doing to get ENDA moving? What should they be studying and understanding and what data do they need? … So for me, it was less about the tactic of an executive order and more about can we figure out how to work together to get ENDA over the finish line?”
Raben continued he felt many advocates in attendance at the meeting “focused on an executive order,” but he doesn’t fall into that category.
“That’s not my position,” Raben said. “I don’t live and die on a particular tactic. I’ve been working on the Employment Non-Discrimination Act for 20 years in January. … I don’t get worried about a particular tactic, I’m worried about how we change people’s minds so the Chamber of Commerce isn’t ridiculous about it.”
Raben added he has no idea whether the Chamber of Commerce has weighed in on an executive order barring workplace discrimination against LGBT people.
Others in attendance at the meeting who issued statements saying the administration wouldn’t issue an executive order barring workplace discrimination against LGBT people were Carey and Stachelberg.
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 and it’s awaiting action at the White House.