July 23, 2014 at 5:20 pm EDT | by Peter Rosenstein
Thank you, Mr. President
Barack Obama, executive order, gay news, Washington Blade

(Washington Blade photo by Michael Key)

President Obama on Monday signed the executive order barring anti-gay bias by federal contractors that many of us have written about and asked him for since 2008 when he first promised to do it. We need to thank him for keeping his promise and taking another step toward securing full civil and human rights for the LGBT community. We have come a long way during his presidency.

This executive order is not a new initiative. What the president has done is to add sexual orientation and gender identity to a list of protected categories that were applied to federal contractors in an executive order first approved by President Lyndon Johnson in 1965. As reported in the New York Times, “He is also adding gender identity as a protected category to a 1969 directive by President Richard M. Nixon that applies to federal employees, which was later amended by President Bill Clinton to include sexual orientation.”

This is a great step forward but it appears that while this EO applies to federal contracts it does not apply to federal grants whose criteria are usually left to each individual agency. The LGBT community takes heart that we have been heard and the EO does not carve out any new religious exemptions that don’t already exist for other protected categories. It is estimated this executive order applies to 24,000 companies that are designated as federal contractors and whose 28 million workers make up about a fifth of the American workforce.

Monday’s signing was done against a backdrop of the fight for legislation including ENDA ongoing for many years. That fight and the issue of exemptions for religious organizations have been impacted by the recent Supreme Court decision in the Hobby Lobby case. The first comprehensive legislation to ban discrimination against the LGBT community was introduced by Bella S. Abzug (D-N.Y.) in 1974. That legislation didn’t pass and there has ensued a long and sometimes bitter battle to pass the Employment Non-Discrimination Act, which first passed the House of Representatives in 2007 but didn’t get through the Senate. This past year, it passed the Senate but looks like it will fail in the House so we will be back to square one in the next Congress.

President Obama ran in 2008 and made a number of promises to the LGBT community including repealing “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” and signing this executive order to get support in the election and it clearly worked. The problem many in the community have had is that every move forward on his part including making these issues a priority once he was in office seemed to coincide with a difficult election, either the mid-term congressional or his own reelection. Forward momentum seemed designed politically to recharge and energize the LGBT community to vote in and raise more money for a coming election. That strategy has worked and includes his well-timed decision to evolve, or as some suggested revolve, as he once before did support it, on the issue of marriage equality.

As someone deeply involved in the political process for more than 40 years I find this strategy understandable. As an activist it is my hope as we move beyond the Obama presidency we will move LGBT issues away from being just a political football and that they will be as ingrained in the continuing fight for civil and human rights as are the fights for the civil rights of African Americans and women’s rights. We also need to move the fight for immigration reform away from the politics of the moment to the politics of full inclusion.

President Obama will always be seen as a hero to the LGBT community for how far we have come during his presidency. He is by nature a decent man. But let us hope that his elections will be the last in which the issues of full civil and human rights for the LGBT community are even debated in the Democratic Party. Unfortunately at this time we can’t say the same for the Republican Party but we can always hope for a better future even there.

We know as we have seen the arc of history with regard to civil rights and women’s rights that we will always have to be vigilant to maintain any forward momentum. But that will be a different fight thanks to this president.

  • I’m Just Sayin”

    Ironic how “incrementalism” is the strategy of those who already have rights and protections and seldom the preferred route for those that are without. “Understandable” as Peter suggests? Sure, Obama’s a politician. But “laudable”? Ask the 4/5th’s of the workforce that got left on the sidelines.

    • DC Native

      You are such an ungrateful queen!

      • I’m Just Sayin’

        A bit surprised that such a response passed the Blade’s Terms of Service, but I will expand on my thoughts nonetheless. When Obama ran for President in 2008 he held back on marriage equality and dangled repeal of DADT and an ENDA executive order as electoral catnip for LGBT voters. As we all know, he fulfilled his DADT promise albeit clumsily in my view. However, he let his first term expire without delivering on his ENDA promise when an ENDA order unlike DADT repeal was totally under his control and discretion. As we entered 2012, there was no guarantee that Obama would be re-elected, so what he did was sacrifice workplace protections for LGBT Americans, not because it was bad policy but because it was bad politics. I might have been more excusing of that the same as Peter, but after getting overwhelmingly re-elected, he jerks us around on an ENDA executive order for another two years, when he knows full well that there is no chance in hell that the House will entertain passing such legislation. That doesn’t add up to gratitude in my book. And the fact that it does in so many others is why we are kept waiting for the same protections that others have.

        • DC Native

          Again you’re just ungrateful. First of all when Obama first ran in 2008 many white gays didn’t want no parts of him because they wanted Hillary. And even after she still wasn’t for marriage the gays provided cover while beating Obama over the head concerning the issue. Nothing comes in a day and things take time ask us African Americans the ones you don’t care much for. Since all of the other Presidents Aren’t minority. Why didn’t any of them do much for the community? And tell me the activism did it. Gays have been engaging in Activism for years only to get paid no attention from those former Presidents including BILL CLINTON. And just remembering a comment you made concerning the DC Mayoral primary when you said if we can splinter the black vote? I wouldn’t take anything you say seriously! Don’t worry I’m just saying he will be gone in 2 1/2 more years and maybe David Catania can save Gay America since you think President Obama hasn’t done anything.

        • EckingtonBlues

          It doesn’t add up to gratitude eh? I see Black people just do not do it for you non black DC Gays. Maybe we should let Romney take the helm and see what happens or better yet Catania? You probably didn’t vote for Obama anyway lol. What President has been good to this community Clinton?

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