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1 year later, White House still withholding workplace protections

Advocates call for Obama to act now, fulfill campaign promise

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The White House told LGBT advocates a year ago President Obama won't issue "at this time" an ENDA executive order (Blade file photo by Michael Key)

The White House told LGBT advocates a year ago President Obama won’t issue ‘at this time’ an ENDA executive order. (Blade file photo by Michael Key)

Last week marked one year since a high-profile White House meeting in which senior adviser Valerie Jarrett told LGBT advocates that President Obama would not take administrative action to protect LGBT workers from discrimination.

During that meeting, which took place on April 11, 2012, the advocates were informed Obama wouldn’t issue “at this time” a much-sought executive order that would bar federal contractors from discriminating against LGBT workers.

The next day, White House Press Secretary Jay Carney fielded questions from reporters for eight minutes on the decision and explained the administration prefers a legislative approach to the issue of LGBT workplace discrimination — the Employment Non-Discrimination Act. One year after that meeting, some advocates are wondering how long Obama is willing to wait.

Tico Almeida, president of Freedom to Work, was among those at the meeting. He said it is long past time for Obama to issue the executive order, which he considered a campaign promise.

“One year ago, the White House staff gave exactly zero persuasive reasons for delaying the executive order, and it’s time for the president to build on his impressive record and fulfill this campaign promise right away,” Almeida said. “There were no valid reasons for delaying a year ago, and there are no valid reasons for delaying today.”

Almeida has considered the executive order a campaign promise based on an affirmative response on a questionnaire to the Houston GLBT Political Caucus in 2008 from Obama indicating that he supports a non-discrimination policy for all federal contractors based on sexual orientation and gender identity.

Action to prohibit workplace discrimination is seen as the only major LGBT issue on which President Obama has yet to make any substantive progress since the start of his presidency. No state laws prohibit discriminating against or firing someone for being gay in 29 states or for being transgender in 34 states.

Still, the White House hasn’t changed its tune on the executive order. Asked Monday for an update on the directive, Shin Inouye, a White House spokesperson, replied, “Regarding a hypothetical Executive Order on LGBT non-discrimination for federal contractors, I have no updates for you on that issue.”

Almeida said he doesn’t know when the White House might change course and issue the order, nor would he comment on recent conversations Freedom to Work has had with the White House on the directive.

Still, Almeida said he remains optimistic that Obama “will do the right thing and fulfill this campaign promise and create strong and enforceable workplace protections in nearly one-fourth of the jobs in the United States.”

A report from the Williams Institute last year estimated that 16 million workers would receive non-discrimination protections if Obama were to issue the executive order. However, that estimate applies to all workers at federal contractors — gay or straight. Based on numbers that LGBT people make up 4 percent of the country’s workforce, the report estimates that the number of LGBT people who would gain protections as a result of the directive would be between 400,000 and 600,000 people.

On the day of that meeting one year ago, LGBT advocates ranging from the Human Rights Campaign to the National Gay & Lesbian Task Force issued statements expressing their disappointment.

One little-noticed quote in ThinkProgress from Winnie Stachelberg, senior vice president for external affairs at the Center for American Progress, stated the White House’s Council of Economic Advisors “will launch a study to better understand workplace discrimination.”

Stachelberg didn’t respond to multiple requests for comment about the quote for more information on the study. A source familiar with the meeting, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said White House officials didn’t say CEA would conduct a study, but noted there are multiple options for how to study the issue and gave CEA as an example.

Meanwhile, LGBT advocates have been building support for the executive order among allies in Congress and other advocacy organizations. Since February, Obama has received a letter from 37 U.S. senators, another from 54 LGBT organizations and yet another from 110 U.S. House Democrats. The response to each letter was the same: no executive order at this time.

Michael Cole-Schwartz, spokesperson for the Human Rights Campaign, said his organization is still pushing for the executive order, but also sees opportunity for the advancement of legislation to address the issue of anti-LGBT workplace bias.

“HRC believes the president should issue a federal contractor EO as soon as possible,” Cole-Schwartz said. “The need for such an order, and the authority to issue one, is clear. While the LGBT community waits for the president to act, Congress must move forward with ENDA, including a Senate committee markup and floor consideration.”

As calls for the executive order continue, renewed focus has been on the advancement of ENDA in Congress — in particular a Senate floor vote on the bill. Although the legislation has yet to be introduced in the 113th Congress, that introduction — along with changes to ENDA — is expected later this month.

With movement doubtful in the Republican-controlled House, the Senate is the chamber most likely to advance the bill because it expanded Democratic numbers since the 2012 election and because Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee Chair Tom Harkin (D-Iowa), who has jurisdiction over ENDA, has already pledged to move the legislation out of committee this year. The office of Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) has said Democratic leadership “looks forward to working with” Harkin to set up a floor vote on the bill.

Stacey Long, the National Gay & Lesbian Task Force director of Public Policy & Government Affairs, said her organization is among those that want a Senate floor vote on ENDA after Harkin’s markup of the legislation is complete.

“Economic security and employment protections are major priorities for The Task Force and the Employment Non-Discrimination Act is critically important,” Long said. “LGBT people are still suffering at work and the situation has been compounded by the downturn in our nation’s economy. We have been pressing for a Senate committee markup followed by a vote on the Senate floor. Of course, the legislation first has to be reintroduced and we expect that will happen sometime this month.”

In response to a question on whether Obama wants an ENDA floor vote in the Senate, Inouye responded, “The president has long supported an inclusive ENDA, and we would welcome action in either chamber on this legislation.”

A Reuters article published on Sunday quotes Jarrett as saying ENDA “is a priority,” but also reports that congressional aides see little evidence the White House is pushing to win support for the bill while it’s busy with gun control, immigration reform and the budget.

Almeida said he wants Obama to make clear that he wants a Senate floor vote on ENDA by using the bully pulpit to call on the full chamber to take action during an upcoming speech “well before the Senate ENDA vote that many advocates are pushing for this year.”

“I think a signing ceremony this spring for the executive order would be the perfect opportunity for the president to explain how America’s businesses and LGBT employees all benefit from workplace fairness,” Almeida said. “He can publicly challenge both chambers of Congress to pass ENDA while signing the executive order that will cover nearly 1 in 4 jobs throughout the United States.”

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History making win- Out Lesbian could be Oregon’s next governor

“This will be a three-way race for the highest office in our state, and this will be an election unlike anything any of us have ever seen”

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Courtesy of Tina Kotek

The Democratic gubernatorial primary Tuesday win by Oregon Speaker of the House Tina Kotek, who had announced her run for the governor’s seat to replace incumbent Democratic Governor Kate Brown, who is term limited last September 1st, 2021, positions her to become the first Out Lesbian governor in the nation should she win the general election in November.

Kotek’s win comes during an uptick in the elections nationwide as more candidates running for office identify as LGBTQ”. More than 600 LGBTQ candidates are on ballots this year, according to the LGBTQ Victory Fund.

According to the Victory Fund, at least 101 people ran or are running for the U.S. Senate or U.S. House – with 96 still actively running as of February 21, 2022. That marks a 16.1 percent increase in LGBTQ Congressional candidates compared to the 2020 election cycle, when 87 people ran.

Speaking to her supporters after it became clear she had won over Oregon Treasurer Tobias Read, who was polling second among Oregonian progressives, “This will be a three-way race for the highest office in our state, and this will be an election unlike anything any of us have ever seen,” Kotek said.

Republican state legislator Christine Drazan along with an independent candidate, Betsy Johnson are slated to be on the November ballot.

Last Fall when she announced her candidacy, she said, “I am running for Governor because I know that, together, we can reckon with the legacies of injustice and inequality to build a great future for Oregon.” She also noted, “Oregonians are living through a devastating pandemic, the intensifying impacts of climate change, and the economic disruptions that leave too many behind. We must get past the politics of division and focus on making real, meaningful progress for families across our state.” 

“A victory for Tina would shatter a lavender ceiling and be a milestone moment in LGBTQ political history, yet she is running not to make history, but because there are few people as prepared and qualified to serve as Oregon’s governor,” said Mayor Annise Parker, President & CEO of LGBTQ Victory Fund. “Under Tina’s leadership, Oregon has led in passing legislation to improve roads and education, raise the minimum wage and ensure all residents are treated fairly and equally. As governor, Tina will make Oregon a role model for the nation.”

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Karine Jean-Pierre on her firsts: ‘I am a Black, gay, immigrant woman’

High praise for first out WH press secretary

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Karine Jean-Pierre is no stranger to progressive politics.

She takes on the role of White House press secretary as part of a long career working on building political coalitions and as a spokesperson for advocates before coming to the Biden administration, which has won her close allies and admirers who continue to cheer her on. Jean-Pierre’s new position as top spokesperson for President Biden — and the first Black, first openly gay person to become White House press secretary — is the latest endeavor she pursues in that broader mission.

Rahna Epting, executive director of MoveOn.org, knew Jean-Pierre from when she worked at the progressive organization and she quickly became a rising star “because she’s so incredibly skilled at communicating in a way that real people understand.”

“She was incredibly relatable to people that were watching her at home on TV,” Epting said. “And she could speak to you know, she she did that role during the Trump era for MoveOn and she really spoke to the hearts and minds of what people were feeling and thinking during that time.”

It was during Jean-Pierre’s time with MoveOn when she was serving as a moderator for a panel with Kamala Harris and famously rose to block an animal-rights activist who was physically threatening the candidate.

When protests emerged during the Trump era over policies such as his travel ban on Muslim countries, efforts to repeal the Affordable Care Act, and the two impeachment votes seeking to remove Trump from office, Epting said Jean-Pierre was key in MoveOn.org being at the front lines of those efforts.

“Karine was on TV and she was representing the movement in ways that sparked or electrified the energy that was actually being felt out there,” Epting said.

Jean-Pierre, 45, has a distinctive story of rising to become White House press secretary as an immigrant from a Haitian family whose parents brought her to the United States, where she was raised in Queens, N.Y., from the age of five. Jean-Pierre cared for her younger siblings growing up as her mother worked as a home health aide and her father worked as a taxi driver.

Despite these humble beginnings, Jean-Pierre nonetheless reached astonishing heights. After receiving her master’s degree from the School of International & Public Affairs at Columbia University, Jean-Pierre went on to work for President Obama, serving as regional political director for the White House Office of Political Affairs during the Obama administration’s first term, before returning to the White House after Biden was elected president.

Michael Strautmanis, now executive vice president for public engagement at the Obama Foundation, worked with Jean-Pierre in the 2008 presidential campaign and at the White House under Obama and said the first thing that came across to him was how she “always had it covered.”

“She never came and asked me for advice on something where she didn’t already have one or two or three possible solutions to the challenge that she always had,” Strautmanis said. “She was always very, very well prepared, so she just sort of stood out to me.”

Jean-PIerre brings all this background to the role of White House press secretary in addition to achieving many firsts in the appointment as a Black woman, an LGBTQ person and an immigrant. Her partner is Suzanne Malveaux, a CNN reporter and former White House correspondent.

In her maiden briefing on Monday as White House press secretary, Jean-Pierre said the opportunity granted to her in her new role was not just an achievement, but the culmination of work from many who came before her.

“I am obviously acutely aware that my presence at this podium represents a few firsts,” Jean-Pierre said,. “I am a Black, gay, immigrant woman, the first of all three of those to hold this position. I would not be here today if it were not for generations of barriers — barrier-breaking people before me. I stand on their shoulders. If it were not for generations of barrier-breaking people before me, I would not be here.”

Asked by April Ryan of The Grio, a Black news outlet, about the many firsts she achieved by taking on the role as White House press secretary, Jean-Pierre recognized the signal that sends and brought up an article from a newspaper that went to her elementary school in Hampstead, N.Y.

“And these kids wrote me a letter,” Jean-Pierre said. “And in the letter, they talked about how they can dream bigger because of me standing behind this podium. And that matters. You know, as I started out at the beginning: Representation matters. And not just for girls, but also for boys.”

A White House spokesperson said Jean-Pierre was unable to make the Washington Blade’s deadline in response to an interview request for this article. Among the questions the Blade planned to ask was whether or not she feels a special obligation to represent and speak for the communities in her role as White House press secretary.

It wasn’t a straight line for Jean-Pierre to get to the position as White House press secretary. Although she worked for Harris in the Biden campaign, she came to the White House as deputy White House press secretary under Jen Psakl, who was responsible for Biden. (At the start of the Biden administration, Politico reported that Jean-Pierre’s relationship with the vice president became strained and Jean-Pierre was effectively estranged in the final five months of the campaign.)

But Jean-Pierre quickly won high praise in her role as a Biden spokesperson. In May 2021, when she gave her first on-camera briefing as a substitute for Psaki, Jean-Pierre was considered effectively to have knocked the ball out of the park and reportedly won a round of applause from her colleagues upon retuning to the press office.

Ester Fuchs, who was an instructor for Jean-Pierre when she was at Columbia University’s School of International & Public Affairs and later her colleague when she returned as a lecturer, said key to understanding Jean-Pierre’s success in communications is her balance of optimism and realism.

“She showed really a deep understanding of American politics, and particularly divisions in American politics,” Fuchs said. “But she was very much committed to the idea that the American Dream was still real for people like her, but with a kind of realpolitik understanding of what were the roadblocks, and always very committed to equity and fairness and making sure that people who were new immigrants or from high -needs population had a chance to be heard.”

The high praise Jean-Pierre receives from her former colleagues and friends undermines the argument in conservative media she was selected for the role of White House press secretary only because she checks off numerous boxes in the base of the Democratic Party’s coalition. Tucker Carlson of Fox News, for example, aired a segment last week deriding the appointment as the latest example of identity politics. Carlson mocked supporters for saying being LGBTQ is “the only thing you need to know” about Jean-Pierre, essentially ignoring the commitment and achievement she has made in getting there.

But there’s also a boon of having a good personality. Jean-Pierre’s smile as a means of being effective in disarming and comforting people was one of her features that came up two times independently among the people close to her the Blade consulted for this article.

Strautmanis said he’ll be watching to see whether or not Jean-Pierre’s humor comes out in her new role in White House press secretary as well as her capability to make people around her implicitly trust her, but ultimately predicted she would “kick ass.”

“She just engenders a tremendous confidence,” Strautmanis said. “And so, I think that’s the other thing that people are going to see, which is that as she speaks, you’re just gonna have a sense that, ‘You know, I trust what this person is saying,’ and I think that’s a really hard thing to do in that in the work that she’s done before in that job. But I think that’s why she transitioned from being a political staffer into communications, because she has that ability in communications to be up front, be direct, be honest, and yet still kind of push forward a particular agenda. I think that’s a rare combination.”

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Politics

Task Force targets five battleground states in ‘Queer the Vote’

LGBTQ rights organization raises over $15,000 at D.C. event

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LGBTQ Task Force Executive Director Kierra Johnson (left) speaks to a crowd of supporters at Metrobar on Friday, May 13. (Blade photo by Michael Key)

Nearly 50 people attended the National LGBTQ Task Force’s Reunited and Resilient fundraiser at Metrobar on Friday, May 13.

Task Force board member Peter Chandler announced at the first in-person D.C. gathering of the organization since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, “we all are thirsty and hungry for community right now.”

Following remarks by Task Force Executive Director Kierra Johnson and Deputy Executive Director Mayra Hidalgo Salazar, the organization raised more than $15,000 in pledges of donations from guests.

“I think a lot of us are seeing this bill pop up,” Salazar said, referring to Florida’s “Don’t Say Gay” law. “And some of us can feel hopelessness, but I’m really thrilled to share with you that the Task Force is super determined to make sure that we are driving the political power of the LGBT movement through our ‘Queer the Vote’ work in Florida.”

Johnson elaborated on the Task Force’s “Queer the Vote” initiative. “As we look to the 2022 midterms, the Task Force is moving our resources into civic engagement across five states: North Carolina, Texas, Florida, Ohio and Michigan,” said Johnson.

“That’s not by accident: that’s intentional,” continued Johnson. “These are battleground states. These are states where we are seeing not only attacks on LGBTQ issues, we’re seeing attacks on abortion, we’re seeing attacks on voting rights, we’re seeing attacks on immigrants. We’re seeing multi-front attacks on our people, and that’s exactly where the Task Force wants to be: at those intersections of social justice issues and LGBTQ liberation.”

“The states that we are going to — we could change the impact on elections. In some places the margin is one percent; it is a one percent margin of whether we win or lose. And the majority of states in this country are 10% LGBTQ voters. That plus BIPOC [Black, Indigenous, and people of color] voters, we have the power to impact elections and make real change.”

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