April 3, 2012 at 5:15 pm EDT | by Chris Johnson
72 lawmakers to Obama: Sign ENDA exec order

A group of 72 U.S. House members is calling on President Obama to take administrative action to institute federal non-discrimination protections for LGBT people in the workplace.

In a letter dated April 2, the lawmakers ask Obama to issue an executive order requiring companies doing business with the U.S. government to have non-discrimination policies inclusive of sexual orientation and gender identity.

“This order would extend important workplace protections to millions of Americans, while at the same time laying the groundwork for Congressional passage of the Employment Non-Discrimination Act (ENDA), a goal that we share with you,” the lawmakers write.

The executive order is similar in its goal to the Employment Non-Discrimination Act, legislation that would bar job bias. The directive has sometimes been referred to as the “ENDA” executive order, although the order would be more limited in scope because it only affects federal contractors.

Reps. Lois Capps (D-Calif.) and Frank Pallone (D-N.J.) (Blade photo by Michael Key)

Reps. Frank Pallone (D-N.J.) drafted the letter and circulated it among House members. Rep. Lois Capps (D-Calif.) and retiring gay Rep. Barney Frank (D-Mass.) were two other original signers.

The letter recalls that President Johnson in 1965 issued Executive Order 11246, which similarly banned discrimination among federal contractors for workers based on color, religion, sex and national origin, and says this order “continues to stand as an important protection.”

“The opportunity to expand protections against workplace discrimination to members of the LGBT community is a critical step that you can take today, especially when data and research tell us that 43 percent of LGB people and 90 percent of transgender people have experienced workplace discrimination,” the lawmakers write.

Lawmakers also make the case for the executive order by citing data that the majority of the 25 largest federal contractors have already adopted these policies and polling shows a majority of American people support such action.

“The majority of the 50 largest corporations in America, for example, say that adopting inclusive workplace practices — such as adding sexual orientation and gender identity to corporate non-discrimination statements — helps attract the best talent, reduce employee turnover, and overall is a plus to their bottom lines,” the letter states.

The letter also notes that the military contractor DynCorp agreed to adopt an LGBT-inclusive non-discrimination policy after media reports were published about a straight employee who allegedly endured anti-gay harassment working there and an online petition demanding the company make the change received 50,000 signatures.

Multiple sources, speaking on condition of anonymity, have told the Blade the Labor and Justice Departments have cleared such a measure. The White House hasn’t said whether it will issue the executive order and didn’t immediately respond to a request to comment on the letter.

Tico Almeida, president of Freedom to Work and chief advocate of the executive order, commended Pallone and other House members for who signed their names in support of the executive order.

“Now that more than 110,000 people have signed the Freedom to Work online petition, more than 70 members of Congress have signed Mr. Pallone’s letter, and 73% of the American people have expressed support for this policy in recent polling, it is clear that ‘We Can’t Wait’ any longer for the president to sign the executive order adding LGBT workplace protections to millions of American jobs,” Almeida said.

Among the signers are the four openly gay members of Congress: Frank, Tammy Baldwin (D-Wis.), Jared Polis (D-Colo.) and David Cicilline (D-R.I.). The letter marks the first time that Frank, Baldwin and Cicilline have publicly articulated support for the directive.

In an interview with the Washington Blade shortly after he announced his retirement in November, Frank said the executive order is a “reasonable thing to keep pushing for.” Still, he said at the time the president’s authority has limits and racial discrimination is “embodied in the Constitution” unlike discrimination against LGBT people, so the president has more power to take action on issues related to race.

Polis said in an interview in March 2011 with the Washington Blade that he backs the idea of Obama issuing an executive order — making him the first public official to go on the record in support of the directive.

Other notable signers are Rep. George Miller (D-Calif.), the ranking Democrat on the House Education & the Workforce Committee, the House panel that has jurisdiction over ENDA. Another signer is Rep. Rob Andrews (D-N.J.), the ranking Democrat on the Subcommittee on Health, Employment, Labor & Pensions, the House subcommittee with jurisdiction over ENDA.

Other House who signed are Rep. Judy Chu (D-Calif.), chair of the Congressional Asian Pacific Caucus; as well as Reps. Raúl Grijalva (D-Ariz.) and Keith Ellison (D-Minn.), co-chairs of the Congressional Progressive Caucus. Rep. Chris Van Hollen (R-Md.) is also a signer.

But prominent members of House Democratic leadership aren’t among the signers. The names of both House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) and House Minority Whip Steny Hoyer (D-Md.) aren’t on the letter.

Pelosi endorsed the executive order when asked about it by the Blade during a news conference in July. Drew Hammill, a Pelosi spokesperson, said the Democratic leader doesn’t typically sign group letters because of “longstanding custom since she has been in leadership.”

Still, Pelosi has penned her name to LGBT-relevant petitions before. She was among 69 lawmakers who signed a letter calling on the Obama administration to issue explicit guidance saying bi-national same-sex couples will be included in policies that aim to take low-priority cases out of the deportation pipeline. Pelosi was also among 133 House members who signed an amicus brief supporting litigation contesting the constitutionality of the Defense of Marriage Act.

Daniel Reilly, a Hoyer spokesperson, said Friday his boss is “reviewing the letter” and noted that Hoyer is an ENDA co-sponsor. Hoyer also signed the amicus brief against DOMA.

Another notable absence is Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz (D-Fla.), chair of the Democratic National Committee. Her office didn’t immediately respond to the Blade’s request for comment on the letter.

No Republicans signed the letter. It begins with a paragraph praising Obama — thanking him for his leadership on LGBT issues and saying his administration will be “long-remembered for its efforts to build an America that is fully inclusive of all people, regardless of their sexual orientation or gender identity” — which Republicans would likely find unpalatable.

Chris Johnson is Chief Political & White House Reporter for the Washington Blade. Johnson is a member of the White House Correspondents' Association. Follow Chris

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