So much for baby steps in his evolution. On April 11, President Obama fell off the wagon of progress for the LGBT community by refusing to issue an executive order requiring federal contractors to add sexual orientation and gender identity to existing nondiscrimination policies.
During the primary campaign in 2008, when he was competing against Hillary Clinton for gay votes and gay dollars, candidate Obama pledged to support such an executive order. When asked if he would sign this executive policy, he gave a one-word answer, “Yes.” He also reiterated his position that workplace discrimination must end on multiple occasions. This is a broken promise that the president can’t blame on Congress.
This isn’t an issue that carries any kind of political risk. The Human Rights Campaign found support from 73 percent of the public in a poll it conducted on the issue. Additionally, the Center for American Progress discovered in a separate national survey that 90 percent of those polled believed that protections already existed for LGBT workers nationwide. The same poll showed that 74 percent of Catholics support the executive order.
Many people and organizations have publicly endorsed this executive order. When the Washington Blade asked Nancy Pelosi last summer whether Obama should sign the order, she said the president’s signature was “long overdue.” In addition, the New York Times, Washington Post, Center for American Progress, Williams Institute, Freedom to Work, ACLU, National Gay and Lesbian Task Force, Human Rights Campaign and nearly 80 members of Congress have called on the president to pick up his pen and get this done. A Freedom to Work petition on Change.org has more than 110,000 signatures in support of the order and counting.
The federal government doles out so many billions of taxpayer dollars each year to federal contractors that the employees of those corporations represent 22 percent of the nation’s workforce, according to Department of Labor statistics. So this executive order would cover almost 1 in 4 workers in states like Texas, Florida and Ohio, where state law does not protect against LGBT discrimination.
Advocacy organizations close to the issue expected the president to issue this executive order by June of this year at the latest. There was even a hope that it would come earlier. In a surprise move, advocates and lobbyists were informed that there would be no such order at this time at a meeting on April 11.
A source close to the White House told me, “a DADT-style study is the right way to go.” In the White House daily briefing on April 12, press secretary Jay Carney also tried to draw parallels to DADT, “I think the DADT repeal is instructive here in terms of the approach that we’re taking at this time.”
So what they are doing is trying to turn attention away from the executive order and toward ENDA, as if it’s an either-or proposition. It’s not. In fact, the two together make absolute sense. The executive order will cover such a large percentage of workers that ENDA becomes a much more real possibility. The first will help pave the way for the second.
It’s such a simple and easy proposition that the White House not moving forward boggles the mind. Aside from the ENDA bait and switch, there has been no solid reason given for postponing this action until after the election. Jay Carney took eight minutes of questions on this in the above referenced White House briefing and didn’t give any additional rationale.
Just to give perspective on how this move shifts the state of play on LGBT issues in Washington, three weeks ago, Greg Sargent reported in the Washington Post that the president’s top political advisers were debating whether he should publicly endorse marriage equality before the election. At the same time, the executive order was considered imminent. Now the imminent is postponed until after the election. This is a shift of gigantic proportions.
In short, the executive order is something the president promised, it’s really easy to do, the work for it has already been done, it enjoys broad public support, it augments existing requirements for contractors and it doesn’t cost any money.
It is so offensive that the White House has taken this position that I am considering not lifting a finger to help Obama win re-election. I was beginning to feel that the baby steps on LGBT rights were adding up and that I could be semi-enthusiastic about the president’s re-election. But with this giant leap backwards, I’ve once again become unmotivated to help. I suspect I’m not alone.
Many have called on the White House to revisit this decision. It would be wise for the president to do so. We as a community should not stand for this injustice any longer. Our fierce advocate should show just a tiny bit of fierceness and issue this executive order.
Lane Hudson is a D.C.-based communications consultant and LGBT rights activist. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.