A total of 110 U.S. House members have signed a letter calling on President Obama to take action to protect LGBT workers from discrimination — although the letter has the notable absence of members of Democratic leadership and Republican lawmakers.
In a letter dated March 20, the lawmakers called on Obama to sign a much sought-after executive order requiring federal contractors to have non-discrimination protections for their LGBT workers.
“We believe that a fully inclusive America benefits us all and that sexual orientation and gender identity should never be used to discriminate in employment practices,” the letter states. “For that reason, we request that you make signing an executive order that would prohibit federal contractors from discriminating in the workplace based on an individual’s sexual orientation or gender identity an initial priority of your second term.”
A news statement accompanying the letter credits Reps. Frank Pallone (D-N.J.) and Jared Polis (D-Colo.), the most senior openly gay member of the U.S. House, with leading the 110 House members in the efforts. In 2011, Pallone led a similar effort with Rep. Lois Capps (D-Calif.) by circulating a letter that was signed by 72 House Democrats calling on Obama to issue the directive.
In addition to Polis, all six openly LGB members of the U.S. House signed the letter. The other five are David Cicilline (D-R.I.), Mark Takano (D-Calif.), Mark Pocan (D-Wis.), Sean Patrick Maloney (D-N.Y.) and Kirsten Sinema (D-Ariz.).
Tico Almeida, president of Freedom to Work, commended the House members who signed the letter for what he said was “speaking out to ensure American taxpayers do not subsidize discriminatory corporations where LGBT employees fear they will get fired for who they are or who they love.”
“It’s now time for President Obama to build on his impressive record and sign this executive order giving millions of Americans a fair shot to build a career based on their talent and hard work,” Almeida added.
The latest missive comes on the heels of similar letters that were sent to President Obama earlier this year. One was signed by 37 U.S. senators, the other was signed by 54 LGBT advocacy groups. In response to each letter, the White House has restated Obama’s support for the Employment Non-Discrimination Act, legislation that would protect LGBT people against workplace discrimination.
Shin Inouye, a White House spokesperson, echoed a similar sentiment in response to the latest letter.
“Regarding a hypothetical Executive Order on LGBT non-discrimination for federal contractors, I have no updates for you on that issue,” Inouye said. “The president has long supported an inclusive Employment Non-Discrimination Act and his administration will continue to work to build support for it.”
But the new letter from House members has notable absences. For one, no House Republicans are among the signers. Pallone’s office didn’t immediately respond to a request for comment on why House Republicans declined or if the lawmaker reached out to them.
The office of Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R-Fla.), who’s considered the most pro-LGBT Republican member of Congress, also didn’t immediately respond to a request for comment on why her name was not on the list.
Also absent from the letter are key members of House Democratic leadership. House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) isn’t among the signers, even though she’s already on the record in support of the directive. In July 2011, Pelosi affirmed to the Washington Blade she would support an executive order protecting LGBT workers from workplace discrimination, saying “Yes, and yes. I think it is all long overdue.”
Drew Hammill, a Pelosi spokesperson, said his boss supports the effort outlined in the letter, but as a rule doesn’t sign group letters because of her position as House minority leader.
“President Obama has demonstrated time and time again that he is committed to ending discrimination wherever it exists,” Hammill added. “Leader Pelosi supports this effort, but it does not diminish the need for a fully-inclusive ENDA law and a majority in the House to approve such legislation.”
Other members of Democratic leadership that are absent from the letter are House Democratic Whip Steny Hoyer (D-Md.), whose daughter came out as a lesbian in an interview with the Blade, as well as Assistant Democratic Leader Jim Clyburn (D-S.C.). Their offices didn’t respond to a request for comment either.
Another absent name is Democratic National Committee Chair Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz (D-Fla.). Last year, she told the Blade she represents “as a member of Congress one of the largest, most vibrant, gay communities in the entire country.” Her office also didn’t respond to a request for comment.