June 16, 2014 at 11:57 am EST | by Chris Johnson
BREAKING: Obama to sign executive order barring anti-LGBT job bias
Barack Obama, ENDA, United States of America, Democratic Party, gay news, Washington Blade

President Barack Obama (Washington Blade file photo by Michael Key)

President Obama is set to sign an executive order that would bar anti-LGBT workplace discrimination among federal contractors.

A White House official, speaking on condition of anonymity, told the Blade on Monday the new directive is in line with Obama’s pledge to make 2014 a year of action and use his “pen” to take administrative action if Congress fails to act.

“The president has directed his staff to prepare for his signature an executive order that prohibits federal contractors from discriminating on the basis of sexual orientation or gender identity,” the official said. “The action would build upon existing protections, which generally prohibit federal contractors and subcontractors from discriminating in employment decisions on the basis of race, color, religion, sex, or national origin. This is consistent with the president’s views that all Americans, LGBT or not, should be treated with dignity and respect.”

The executive order was one of the last remaining initiatives that LGBT advocates had sought from the Obama administration in the aftermath of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” repeal, discontinued defense of the Defense of Marriage Act in court, coming out for marriage equality and submitting a brief in the case against California’s Proposition 8.

Rea Carey, executive director of the National Gay & Lesbian Task Force, called the decision “a major step forward” in improving the lives of LGBT people.

“Now millions of people will have the economic security they need to provide for their families,” Carey said. “Through his actions, the president has demonstrated again his commitment to ending discrimination. We thank all the organizations who have worked so hard to make this piece of history. This decision is good for LGBTQ people, good for our economy and good for America.”

According to a 2012 study from the Williams Institute, as many as 16.5 million people would receive protections under the executive order because they work for federal contractors. However, the number of LGBT people within this group is  smaller — about 400,000 -600,000.

Outgoing White House Press Secretary Jay Carney had faced questions about whether Obama would sign the executive order from multiple media outlets, especially LGBT media including the Washington Blade, since April 2011. Each time, Carney has said the administration prefers the Employment Non-Discrimination Act, legislation that would bar anti-LGBT workplace discrimination among many public and private employers, not just federal contractors.

Following a high-level meeting between LGBT advocates and the senior adviser to the president Valerie Jarrett in April 2012, Carney announced that the administration wouldn’t issue the executive order “at this time.” But that didn’t stop LGBT advocates from continuing to call for and demonstrate on behalf of the executive order.

Vice President Joseph Biden told The Huffington Post just last month he sees no “downside” to issuing an executive order against LGBT discrimination, although he maintained legislation remains the best path. Nonetheless, Biden’s words triggered speculation that an executive order from would soon follow, much like his endorsement of marriage equality, which preceded Obama’s just days earlier.

On Monday, the White House official told the Blade that Obama continues to support the Employment Non-Discrimination Act, but noted the U.S. House has not yet acted to pass the legislation following a bi-partisan vote of 64-32 to approve the bill in the U.S. Senate late last year.

“No current federal law adequately protects lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) workers from employment discrimination,” the White House official said. “That’s why the president has long supported federal legislation to explicitly prohibit employers from discriminating on the basis of sexual orientation or gender identity. Last November, the Senate passed the Employment Non-Discrimination Act (ENDA) with strong bipartisan support. However, the House has failed to act on this important legislation.”

It wasn’t immediately known when Obama would formally pen his name to the executive order. He’s scheduled to speak this week at a Democratic National Committee gala for the LGBT community in New York City and to speak at a Pride reception at the White House on June 30.

Asked by the Blade whether there could be a scenario in which Obama would drop plans to sign the executive order, the White House official replied, “The president’s intentions are clear.”

It also wasn’t immediately known whether Obama would sign a new executive order or simply amend Executive Order 11246, which prohibits discrimination on the basis of race, religion and national origin among federal contractors who do more than $10,000 a year in business with the federal government.

The White House official pushed back in response to a question over whether the decision to sign the order reflects an assessment that ENDA won’t pass by the end of this Congress.

“We do not believe executive action and congressional action are mutually exclusive,” the official said. “By prohibiting discrimination against LGBT workers by federal contractors, we would be doing our part to expand opportunity for every hard-working American, regardless of who they are or who they love. We continue to hope the House will follow the bipartisan lead of the Senate and pass legislation. But we’re not going to wait any longer for them to do so.”

Despite the continued push for ENDA, House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) told the LGBT Equality Caucus in January there’s “no way” it will come up before Election Day, although participants in the meeting expressed a sense that a vote may take place in the lame duck session of Congress.

On the same day the Blade learned about this development, the Human Rights Campaign published new polling data demonstrating strong public support for federal non-discrimination protections for LGBT people in the workforce.

According to the national survey by TargetPoint Consulting, 63 percent of those surveyed favor a federal law that protects gay and transgender people from employment discrimination, while only 25 percent oppose it. The poll was conducted June 6-10 among 1,200 registered voters.

A 2011 poll by Greenberg Quinlan Rosner Research had similar results regarding the executive order itself and found 73 percent of likely voters would support it.

Tom Harkin (D-Iowa), chair of the Senate Health, Education, Labor & Pensions Committee, praised Obama for his plans and said the House needs to follow suit by taking up ENDA.

“The reality is that many LGBT workers still remain vulnerable to employment discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation or gender identity,” Harkin said. “Without the enactment of the Employment Non-Discrimination Act, it remains perfectly legal to do so in many states across the country. The House should take up and pass ENDA, which was approved with bipartisan support both in the HELP Committee and on the Senate floor.”

The White House official said the executive order builds on Obama’s record on LGBT issues — and would precede more work on behalf of the LGBT community.

“From signing an inclusive Hate Crimes law to passing the Affordable Care Act, from reauthorizing the Violence Against Women Act with provisions to protect LGBT victims to ensuring equality in federal housing, we have taken many important steps forward,” the official said. “While work remains to ensure that all Americans, regardless of sexual orientation or gender identity, are equal under the law, we look forward to continuing to make progress in the months and years ahead.”

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

  • peter rosenstein

    Better late than never is an appropriate phrase here but I am pleased that the President has finally agreed to sign the Executive Order banning discrimination against the LGBT community in federal contracting. I and others have written about this often urging him to do so and let us not forget it was a promise he made to the LGBT community in 2008.

    I join with many others in thanking the President for agreeing to sign the Executive Order and for all he has done for the LGBT community during his Presidency. But we can hope that in our lifetime there will come a time when we will not have to pressure people to do the right thing but they will do it just because it is the right thing to do.

    We can only hope that the President will continue to pressure Congress to act on ENDA and urge them to do the right thing. Until the LGBT community along with women, African Americans and other minorities can be assured of having their full civil and human rights; until everyone is treated fairly and that includes congress passing strong and fair immigration reform; we still have a long way to go until we have that more perfect union that our forefathers and mothers talked of.

    This Executive Order is just one more step in the right direction.

  • Cindy Trower

    He needs to re-instate unemployment benefits to those who are still unemployed after 6 months of employment.. Because of this I am having to file bankruptcy, go on Medicaid and Snap program and go to food banks for additional food.. How can he just take peoples unemployment away.

  • Brians Ions

    We can only hope that the President will continue to pressure Congress to act on ENDA and urge them to do the right thing. Until the LGBT community along with women, African Americans and other minorities can be assured of having their full civil and human rights; until everyone is treated fairly and that includes congress passing strong and fair immigration reform; we still have a long way to go until we have that more perfect union that our forefathers and mothers talked of. – Peter R.
    Well said, Peter. This was becoming an embarrassment for Democrats everywhere– and a stain on the president’s otherwise stellar record on behalf of LGBT civil rights. Now the national Democratic Party can stand tall, once again, being on the right of history– and in sharp relief to today’s exclusionary, bigoted Republican Party.
    Thank you, again, Mr. President! Federal contractor employers are not stupid. This EO, when it is signed, should surprise no one– even in the most conservative jurisdictions in the country. Compliance should be high, and the future of a full ENDA largely now rests with Republicans in Congress.
    And how about a shout out to the Washington Blade and the Blade’s WH reporter, Chris Johnson!
    The Blade never let up on this issue– driving the truth and justice of this federal contracting requisite home persistently– and obviously effectively– at the highest office in the land. Well done!
    In a month of Pride, being a near daily consumer of the Blade’s dogged, top-notch journalism is just another thing to be proud of.

  • Michael Bedwell

    FOR THOSE WHO DON’T BELIEVE IN THE POWER OF THE gATM: “Monday’s announcement comes one day before the president’s trip to New York for the Democratic National Committee’s annual gay and lesbian FUNDRAISER.” – msnbc. Given its reporting at the time, the “Blade” should well remember that the Administration only stopped defending DOMA as Constitutional after major gay donors closed their wallets in 2009/2010. If this announcement was unrelated to tomorrow’s fundraiser, it would simply have been saved for the Big Reveal at the White House Pride event June 30th. And Just Say NO to the spin that it’s because he’s disappointed that a Repug-controlled House won’t pass ENDA—they took over in January 2011 and it was no less obvious three years ago than it is today that they’d rather die first. And, sorry, no, do NOT thank the President—thank our own people—both those finally willing to wield their financial clout and those who kept reminding them how important this issue is while Gay Bots demonized them for daring suggest the President keep his promise—AND dismissed executive orders as meaningless.

  • El Dorado

    Obama signing this order is good. But what happens after he leaves office? Executive Orders are only good as long as the one who signed it is in office. The next President does not have to honor it despite any precedent established. We’ve seen Executive Orders reversed before.

    This only applies to Federal Contractors. Not everyone relies on a job like that. Everyone else not covered is still screwed.

    ENDA is really the only remedy. This executive order is just a Band-Aid. It’s not a solution. Yeah, better than nothing but we can still end up with nothing again in a few years.

    If the gay community really had the clout it assumes it has, it would have had ENDA passed as law already. We let the Dems failed us, when the had control of Congress and a sitting President willing to sign it, but stalling with endless excuses why ENDA couldn’t get a vote. Pelosi always said the votes weren’t there. Now Boehner is holding it up so it can’t get a vote.

    We have people who don’t want ENDA to pass if it has religious exemptions in it. Before you wouldn’t let it pass if Transgenders weren’t included. The same people are now finding other excuses to keep it from becoming laws. You are you own enemies in achieving equality.

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