June 10, 2013 | by Chris Johnson
DNC treasurer says ‘process’ underway for ENDA directive
Democratic National Committee Treasurer Andrew Tobias says a 'process' under over an ENDA executive order (Blade file photo by Michael Key)

Democratic National Committee Treasurer Andrew Tobias (Blade file photo by Michael Key)

The treasurer of the Democratic National Committee is telling LGBT donors that “a process” is underway that would lead to President Obama signing an executive order banning LGBT workplace discrimination among federal contractors.

In an email dated May 30 from an off-the-record listserv leaked to the Washington Blade, Andy Tobias, who’s gay, said in response to questions about the directive that he’s spoken to officials within the administration and “everyone’s for it,” but the hold up is related to “process.”

“I have spoken to people in an attempt to understand better myself what the delay is — and to lobby for its getting done,” Tobias wrote. “Those people have left me satisfied that our frustration is heard, that the hold-up is not staffers who oppose our rights but a process that is broader than just this one very important and long delayed agenda item. To which I basically respond: can I share more of the specifics? (‘Please don’t') and can you please get a move on?! (‘we hear you brother; keep the faith’).”

Tobias, who’s gay, concludes by saying other LGBT agenda items were achieved under President Obama, including hate crimes protection legislation, “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” repeal and the completion of the president’s evolution on same-sex marriage. He added, “But they got done and this will get done too.

The email is a follow-up to an email that Tobias wrote already published by the Washington Blade from the same listserv responding to criticism over first lady Michelle Obama’s speech during a DNC LGBT gala in New York. The second email is in response to a question from Freedom to Work’s Tico Almeida.

Tobias declined to comment on the emails, although multiple individuals on the listserv confirmed they came from his email address.

Other emails from Tobias leaked to the Blade reveal that he’s attempted to tamp down concerns among some on the listserv over the White House withholding the executive order. The second email is the one in which he talks most explicitly about a process potentially leading to the directive.

Shin Inouye, a White House spokesperson, reiterated that an executive order is a “hypothetical” matter for the administration.

“As we’ve said before, the White House has no updates regarding a hypothetical Executive Order on LGBT non-discrimination for federal contractors,” Inouye said.

Still, this assertion of a process is consistent with indications from the White House that some kind of study is underway — or possibly completed — on LGBT discrimination protections.

In April, Inouye alluded to an examination in a previously unpublished response to the Blade over a little-noticed year-old quote from the Center for American Progress’ Winnie Stachelberg about a study on the issue from the Council of Economic Advisers. Inouye said, “We continue to study the issue.”

That year-old quote came after a high-level White House meeting in which Senior Adviser to the President Valerie Jarrett told LGBT advocates the administration wouldn’t at the time issue an executive order for LGBT workplace protections. A source familiar with the meeting, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said White House officials didn’t say CEA would conduct a study, but noted there are multiple options for how to study the issue and gave CEA as an example.

White House Press Secretary Jay Carney didn’t deny the existence of the study last week when questioned about it during a news briefing, saying, “I don’t have any updated status on that for you.” The White House didn’t respond to further requests from the Blade to elaborate.

Internal work within the Obama administration on the executive order reportedly was done more than a year ago. Sources told the Blade last year that the Labor and Justice departments indicated they could implement the order if Obama signed it.

But if a study is underway within the White House, it’s being kept under tight wraps.

The Human Rights Campaign, Freedom to Work, the National Center for Transgender Equality and the Williams Institute said they’re unaware of such a study. Center for American Progress didn’t respond to requests for comment about it.

Groups that did respond said LGBT advocates — particularly Stachelberg and then-HRC president Joe Solmonese — strongly pushed back on the idea of a White House study a year ago, saying additional information was unnecessary amid other reports that have already been published.

For example, LGBT groups led by the Movement Advancement Project, HRC and CAP last week unveiled a 131-page report, titled “A Broken Bargain: Discrimination, Fewer Benefits and More Taxes for LGBT Workers” detailing the harms of the absence of any federal LGBT workplace discrimination protections. Among the findings were 67 percent of small business owners support federal workplace non-discrimination protections and 63 percent of Americans believe religious beliefs aren’t an acceptable reason to fire LGBT workers.

Meanwhile, advocates, particularly at Freedom to Work, say the executive order is a campaign promise from President Obama based on a response to the Houston GLBT Political Caucus in 2008 indicating that he supports a non-discrimination policy for all federal contractors based on sexual orientation and gender identity.

It’s possible the administration is awaiting the rulings from the Supreme Court in the Prop 8 and DOMA cases before the end of this month to evaluate what further action to take.

Tico Almeida, president of Freedom of Work, said he’s hopeful that the administration is in the middle of a process that will lead to Obama signing the order sometime in June in accordance with Pride, but would “bet on a signature at some point later this year.”

“I have never lost faith that President Obama is a man of his word who will fulfill his written campaign promise and sign the executive order,” Almeida said. “He will build on his unmatched record as the best president ever for advancing LGBT equality. I’m keeping faith in President Obama.”

The full email from Tobias follows:

Hey, Tico.  I can only give you an unsatisfactory answer.  But here it is.

I have spoken to people in an attempt to understand better myself what the delay is — and to lobby for its getting done.  Those people have left me satisfied that our frustration is heard, that the hold-up is not staffers who oppose our rights but a process that is broader than just this one very important and long delayed agenda item.

To which I basically respond: can I share more of the specifics? (“Please don’t”) and can you please get a move on?! (“we hear you brother; keep the faith”).

If this just serves to make you more angry, then of course I should have ignored your question.  But it’s a completely fair question and I’d rather be damned for trying to provide at least a little context, unsatisfactory though it surely is, than for failing to respond.

If we all keep pushing, not least with this Exxon action to focus around, we’ll get there — later than we should have but a great deal sooner than we would have if we hadn’t helped reelect the President.

Hate crimes was done too slowly — we deserved it 20 years ago. DADT and evolution on marriage and all the rest. But they got done and this will get done too.

Push and support.  Both directly in our self interest.

Andy

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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