A gay Democratic activist claims that Democratic National Committee Chair Debbie Wasserman Schultz (D-Fla.) has discouraged House members from asking President Obama to take administrative action to protect LGBT workers, an assertion her office calls a “bald-faced lie.”
Paul Yandura, political director for gay philanthropist Jonathan Lewis, made the allegation when speaking with the Washington Blade from his home in West Virginia on Thursday regarding a 2013 missive that was circulated among House members by Reps. Frank Pallone (D-N.J.) and Lois Capps (D-Calif.).
“I was told personally by two members that she was tamping down on public calls for the president to make good on his promise — this was last year when the issue was really getting hot,” Yandura said. “She is most likely doing the same still.”
Yandura’s allegation comes as lawmakers — led by the LGBT Equality Caucus and Sen. Jeff Merkley (D-Ore.) — are circulating a new missive among members of Congress calling on Obama to sign an executive order barring federal contractors from engaging in anti-LGBT workplace discrimination.
Two sources familiar with the 2013 letter told the Washington Blade that Wasserman Schultz discouraged members of Congress from signing it, but Yandura was the only source willing to go on the record. The other source, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said Wasserman Schultz, who represents Florida’s 23rd congressional district in the U.S. House, dissuaded Democrats from signing the letter in private conversations on the House floor.
Although these sources said Wasserman Schultz may be engaging in the same tactic for the letter currently being circulated, no one has made the same claim to the Blade about the upcoming letter. As the Blade reported this week, House Minority Whip Steny Hoyer (D-Md.) has already pledged to sign it.
Yandura said he wouldn’t disclose the names of the House members who told him Wasserman Schultz was discouraging support for the 2013 letter because he didn’t want to “rat them out.”
“I’m sure she’ll come with something that sounds like a good excuse, but it’s about time,” Yandura said. “It’s time that she not only signs it, but tells people that they should publicly, and that it’s OK and that there’s no pressure not to sign it.”
Mara Sloan, a Wasserman Schultz spokesperson, disputed the allegations made by Yandura, saying any assertion that she discouraged members from signing the letter “is a bald-faced lie.”
“The congresswoman believes the most effective way to ensure equal rights for LGBT Americans in the workplace is through passing comprehensive non-discrimination legislation,” Sloan said. “The congresswoman regularly speaks to the administration about issues important to the LGBT community, and will continue to be a fierce advocate for full equality.”
Sloan didn’t immediately respond to a follow-up email about whether that response means Wasserman Schultz won’t sign the group letter currently being circulated among House members calling for the LGBT executive order. The response is along the lines of responses to requests for comment about the order by the White House, which consistently redirects attention to the Employment Non-Discrimination Act.
Despite her record of support for the LGBT community, Wasserman Schultz has never explicitly called on Obama to sign an executive order barring LGBT discrimination among federal contractors. Asked about the issue in January by The Huffington Post, Wasserman Schultz said she supports the idea of Obama using his executive authority in “as broad a way as he can to ensure that we can move this country forward.”
Yandura said he thinks Wasserman Schultz refuses to express support for the executive order and has discouraged House members from speaking out in favor of it for political reasons.
“I think she doesn’t want to embarrass the president, and still doesn’t want to embarrass the president, because it is an embarrassment that he still hasn’t done it,” Yandura said. “We’re now coming down to the end of the second term, and if they don’t get moving on it, it’ll never even get implemented.”
House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) has refused to bring ENDA to the floor for a vote; the Senate passed a version last year.
Yandura said he heard from House members about Wasserman Schultz because he was part of the effort to gather signatures for the 2013 letter. It ultimately was signed by 110 House Democrats. A separate letter to the same effect was signed by 37 Senate Democrats.
At the time, Yandura said he didn’t speak to the media about what he heard, but urged other groups working on the letter — Freedom to Work and most likely GetEQUAL — to address the situation with Wasserman Schultz. Freedom to Work didn’t immediately respond to a request to comment.
Heather Cronk, managing director for GetEQUAL, said she couldn’t corroborate allegations that Wasserman Schultz was actively discouraging House members from signing the letter.
“I actually can’t corroborate that,” Cronk said. “I’ve heard that she wasn’t a fan of the Executive Order, but I don’t have any evidence that she actively worked against it.”
Fred Sainz, vice president of communications for the Human Rights Campaign, said he hasn’t heard anything about Wasserman Schultz discouraging members from the signing the letter, even though his group was active in gathering signatures.
Yandura said he didn’t contact HRC about about Wasserman Schultz “probably because I don’t see them as good accountability enforcers for the president or Dems.”
The offices of Capps and Pallone, who were responsible for gathering signatures for the House letter, didn’t immediately respond with information about whether they had heard anything about Wasserman Schultz discouraging support for it.
Yandura has a history of making inflammatory statements against the DNC for not undertaking sufficient efforts on behalf on LGBT rights. In 2004, he landed his partner Donald Hitchcock, then the DNC’s LGBT liaison, in hot water by publicly asserting that the Democratic Party wasn’t doing enough to combat the multitude of anti-gay marriage amendments on the ballot that year.
Yandura’s boss has contributed to LGBT organizations such as Freedom to Work and GetEQUAL. Last year, Lewis announced that he would no longer donate to the Democratic Party after Senate Democrats excluded same-sex bi-national couples from immigration reform legislation (which was later remedied by the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision against the Defense of Marriage Act) and President Obama’s decision to continue to withhold an executive order barring LGBT discrimination.
Invoking the assertion from LGBT advocates that the executive order is a 2008 campaign promise from then-candidate Obama, Yandura said the best way to convince Obama to pen his name to the directive is increased pressure.
“I think that if the pressure could get built again, we might be able to shame him into doing it,” Yandura said. “We’ve waited for him to do the right thing. Now, I don’t know what it will take other than what it took to get him to do other things — and that is causing a shitstorm, getting up in his face and demanding it get done.”