August 8, 2013 | by Chris Johnson
ENDA strategist’s remarks stir controversy
Matt McTighe, gay news, Washington Blade, Employment Non-Discrimination Act, ENDA

Matt McTighe comments dismissing an LGBT workplace executive order are stirring controversy. (Washington Blade photo by Michael Key).

Members of a coalition working to advance LGBT workplace protections reaffirmed their belief in a dual-track push for both the Employment Non-Discrimination Act and an executive order prohibiting job bias among federal contractors in the wake of the campaign manager dismissing administrative action as partisan.

Heather Cronk, managing director of one group that isn’t part of the campaign’s steering committee but that is still pushing for LGBT workplace protections, GetEQUAL, expressed the greatest concern over comments from Matt McTighe.

“It’s concerning that the new ENDA campaign manager is dismissive of any effort to make LGBT folks more equal under the law,” Cronk said. “And while I’m glad that Matt is lending his tremendous expertise on marriage to the fight for employment protections, we’re all able to walk and chew gum at the same time. We need both ENDA and the executive order to be treated equally in the workplace, as research has shown over and over again — one or the other is simply insufficient.”

Matt McTighe, campaign manager for Americans for Workplace Opportunity, made the comments during an interview with the Washington Blade on Tuesday when asked about President Obama signing a heavily sought executive order prohibiting LGBT workplace discrimination among federal contractors, saying that kind of administrative action “injects a level of partisanship into whatever that debate is.”

“The minute an executive order is invoked, now you’re going to make it a lot harder for people from whatever party the current administration is not in, so in this case Republicans coming on board, it makes it harder for them because now this is much more of a partisan issue,” McTighe added.

That viewpoint departs from what LGBT groups have articulated about the need for both the executive order and ENDA to protect against LGBT workplace discrimination, including many of the groups that are part of the eight-member steering committee for the $2 million campaign that McTighe heads.

Rea Carey, executive director of the National Gay & Lesbian Task Force, was among those saying that LGBT advocates should pursue both legislative and administrative action.

“LGBT workers across the country must have employment protections now,” Carey said. “We will pursue all avenues to make progress on that goal — including local and state work, an immediate executive order and pushing for Congress to pass ENDA.”

Since legislation such as ENDA takes time to move through Congress and to the president’s desk, an executive order is seen as an option that would bring more immediate relief to LGBT workers. Additionally, as noted in a 2013 report by the Center for American Progress, the executive order, unlike ENDA, would extend to companies with fewer than 15 employees.

Charlie Joughlin, a Human Rights Campaign spokesperson, expressed a sentiment that was similar to the Task Force’s in favor of a dual-track approach.

“We believe we need both,” Joughlin said. “The EO is essential and even if ENDA passed tomorrow, we would still want the EO. The EO can and should be done immediately. It’s long overdue as is ENDA.”

Mara Keisling, executive director of the National Center for Transgender Equality, said she wants both the directive and ENDA, but noted McTighe’s campaign is focused on legislative efforts.

“LGBT people need both ENDA and the executive order, and we really believe we will get both,” Keisling said. “Our goal is to be smart and hardworking and get both done as fast as possible. The Americans for Workplace Opportunity campaign, of which we are a part, is a campaign singularly focused on passing ENDA, as it was created to do.”

Ian Thompson, legislative representative of the American Civil Liberties Union, said his group is “proud” to take part in McTighe’s campaign, but also wants both the executive order and ENDA.

“To be clear, even if Congress were to pass ENDA tomorrow, President Obama should still sign this executive order to further protect Americans from workplace discrimination,” Thompson said. “It is important to provide LGBT people with the same workplace protections that apply based on race and sex, which is why both ENDA and the executive order are needed.”

The ACLU is one member of that steering committee that has spoken out against the religious exemption in ENDA on the grounds that it’s overly broad because it leaves LGBT people with fewer protections than discrimination based on race and gender.

Thompson also responded to comments that McTighe made in the article saying all steering committee members were on board with ENDA as currently written by saying ACLU would continue to push for limiting the religious exemption.

“We’re committed to working shoulder to shoulder with our partners to move the ball forward on ENDA in Congress,” Thompson said. “But we’re also committed to seeing ENDA’s current religious exemption appropriately narrowed. Our commitment to narrowing the religious exemption will continue while we advocate for both ENDA and the non-discrimination executive order for federal contractors.”

One exception on supporting a dual-track came from the Republican member of the steering committee on the Americans for Workplace Opportunity coalition.

Jeff Cook-McCormac, senior adviser to the pro-LGBT Republican group American Unity Fund, said he can’t comment on the executive order because his group is exclusively focused on building support for legislation.

“The reason we have been so successful on the GOP side of the aisle at the state level is because of our laser-focus on our mission – thoughtfully and respectfully engaging and winning the support of Republican legislators to advance freedom for gay and lesbian Americans,” Cook-McCormac said. “Working together with our partners through Americans for Workplace Opportunity, we are confident that when senators get the chance to vote their conscience this fall we will be one giant step closer to making ENDA a reality.”

Tico Almeida, president of Freedom to Work, another group that isn’t part of the steering committee even though it’s a chief advocate of ENDA, said he wished he had spoken to McTighe beforehand.

“I have never met Mr. McTighe, and it’s a shame we did not meet before AWO and before he decided to speak publicly about the executive order,” Almeida said.

Almeida added he had an email exchange with McTighe on Wednesday and the two intend to meet in the immediate future when their schedules allow.

“I’m looking forward to hearing more about what AWO is planning on doing and how AWO is different from the long-standing and broader ENDA coalition that has always been housed at the Leadership Conference for Civil & Human Rights,” Almeida added. “I can’t comment on AWO itself because very little is known about AWO.”

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

3 Comments
  • B.S. Executive Orders have stood many different Administrations with the exceptions of some Republican (fascists) Adminsitrations.

  • A major pratfall. Laughably myopic and a damaging notion on its face. An EO is the most significant first step to getting congressional support.

    If Obama is hiding on an ENDA EO for fed contract workers, why on earth would any swing Republican (or conservative Dem, for that matter) jump in front of the most well-known, “LGBT rights fierce advocate” president to date?

    However the remarks to the Blade are fitting for what might be talking points from a skittish WH these days. Hmm. (Is Chris making things too hot this mild summer?)

    Congressional opponents of ENDA are, no doubt, gleeful.

    BTW, a few ad campaigns (tactics, not strategy) in already gay-friendly states does not a “veteran” campaign “strategist” make. In addition to a White House EO, we need highly experienced, effective CONGRESSIONAL specialists to get ENDA passed.

    This guy apparently has no such track record. And it shows.

    What was the coalition committee thinking? With 90 groups there is bound to be a lot of outstanding, congressional-experienced brains to pick, whatever their orientation and identity.

  • Peter Rosenstein

    Matt McTighe made a big mistake with his comments on the Executive Order. I hope he will rethink them as he learns more about what an EO can do. He can focus on getting ENDA passed without giving those who are opposed to the EO in the White House amunition to keep the President from signing it. He does a disservice to the LGBT community when he does that.

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