April 16, 2012 | by Chris Johnson
Hispanic group urges Obama to ‘revisit’ ENDA stopgap

An organization billing itself as the largest Hispanic civil rights group in the United States is calling on President Obama to “revisit” his decision not to take administrative action to prohibit anti-LGBT discrimination among federal contractors.

In a letter dated April 16, the National Council of La Raza “strongly urge[s]” Obama to reconsider the recent announcement that he won’t issue at this time an executive order requiring companies doing business with the U.S. government to have non-discrimination policies based on sexual orientation and gender identity.

Eric Rodriguez, the organization’s vice president of the Office of Research, Advocacy & Legislation, argued on behalf of the executive order in part because it’s “important to millions of Hispanic LGBT community members.”

“It will also help vital federal contractors attract and retain talented employees, as well as improve workplace productivity, appeal to consumers, and decrease the possibility of costly litigation,” Rodriguez writes.

The letter cites previously released information, including recent polling from the Human Rights Campaign showing 72 percent of Latinos support the directive. The letter also cited a recent letter signed by 72 House Democrats in favor of the order, noting that among its signers are Latino members of the House: Reps. Raul Grijalva (D-Calif.), Luis Gutierrez (D-Ill.), Silvestre Reyes (D-Texas), Linda Sanchez (D-Calif.) and former Congressional Hispanic Caucus chair Nydia Velázquez (D-N.Y.)

“In addition, 25 of some of the largest federal contractors think it is a good practice to add sexual orientation and gender identity to their non-discrimination policies,” Rodriguez writes. “It is, but it also does something else — it protects a group of people who have a long history of being marginalized and gives them hope. That is why we urge you to sign an EO on this matter as soon as possible.”

Founded in 1968, NCLR advocates for the Latino community through applied research, policy analysis and advocacy and works with a network of nearly 300 affiliated community-based organizations in 41 states, Puerto Rico and the District of Columbia

Last week, the organization unveiled new polling that showed 54 percent of Latinos back marriage equality.

Last week, LGBT advocates were informed at a high-level White House meeting that Obama won’t at this time sign an executive order barring job bias against LGBT workers. The administration is instead focused on passing legislation to provide such protections known as the Employment Non-Discrimination Act, officials said.

The letter makes the National Council of La Raza the first non-LGBT group to call on the White House to reconsider the decision on the executive order. Following the decision, Freedom to Work announced its new “We Can’t Wait” campaign and a $100,000 donation from philanthropist Jonathan Lewis to urge Obama to change his mind. In a statement announcing the White House decision last week, HRC President Joe Solmonese said the group will “continue to advocate for an executive order from the president.”

The National Council of La Raza’s request for President Obama to reconsider the order is significant because one of its former lobbyists now serves in a high-level position at the White House. Cecilia Muñoz, director of the White House Domestic Policy Council, was once vice president of the organization and worked with the group for more than two decades from 1988 to 2009. Muñoz was among the officials at the meeting where advocates were told Obama won’t issue the executive order.

Tico Almeida of Freedom to Work, who’s Latino and served as the chair of the Hispanic National Bar Association’s section on employment law, said he hopes Muñoz will ”listen to the strong advice from her former colleagues” and help convince Obama to reconsider the decision.

“There is no good reason to interrupt President Obama’s successful ‘We Can’t Wait’ campaign of executive orders by punting this one until a later time,” Almeida said. “Any further delay will have a real human cost to any LGBT employee of a federal contractor who is unjustly fired between now and whenever the president’s executive order eventually gets signed.”

Almeida said his group met with NCLR staffers three weeks ago seeking its endorsement of the executive order and plans to meet allied civil rights organizations – African-American, Latino, Asian, women’s, labor unions – for help in urging Obama to reconsider his decision. Prior to the White House announcement, the Mexican American Legal Defense & Educational Fund became the first non-LGBT civil rights group to endorse the directive.

UPDATE: Shin Inouye, a White House spokesperson, responded to the letter by echoing earlier comments that the executive order won’t happen “at this time.”

“While it is not our usual practice to discuss executive orders that may or may not be under consideration, we do not expect that an EO on LGBT non-discrimination for federal contractors will be issued at this time,” Inouye said. “President Obama is deeply committed to working to address the issue of LGBT employment discrimination. An inclusive ENDA would provide broad, lasting and comprehensive protections for LGBT people across the country, regardless whether they happen to work for a government contractor. We will work with a broad range of partners to continue to build the case for, and raise awareness of the need for, employment nondiscrimination protections that include the LGBT community.”

Inouye added, “While the Administration hasn’t taken any options off the table, our belief is that the time is right for a comprehensive legislative approach to achieve passage of ENDA.”

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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