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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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5 Comments

5 Comments

  1. Craig

    April 18, 2013 at 8:37 pm

    Freedom to Work is wasting its resources trying to get an Executive Order that would prohibit government contractors from discriminating based on sexual orientation and gender identity. There is already and EO that prohibits discrimination in the federal workforce based on sexual orientation. It is simply a policy statement that the President can choose to ignore without consequence as Bush did repeatedly. It is not enforceable in a court of law. The EO Freedom to Work wants would be no better. The solution is to pass an Employment Non discrimination Act that includes transgender workers and provisions for government contractors as well as the federal workforce. But a quick reality check shows this will not happen anytime soon.

  2. Robben Wainer

    April 19, 2013 at 1:03 pm

    This may prove to be a grat Testament to LGBT Civil Rights. As a minority the Gay community faces discrimination. As a turning point at a national level, I believe we practice acceptanca and tolerance by providing the gay community the right to be citizens. I am interested in the turn around in granting these civil rights to all those who are in the gay community, and in a minority. I believe the greatest acts of will will demonstrate that freedom of choice is an inalienable rights that helps the gay community from moving from a banned society to one that liberally declares the practices of inclusion.

  3. Yesi'mgay Getoverit

    April 22, 2013 at 2:03 am

    I'm not clear if ENDA includes ALL workers in the country but it needs to. This is a civil rights issue, not just for contractor jobs. Employers who discriminate in employment, harass or fire employees, need to be punished civilly and criminally.

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Politics

Rachel Levine: Efforts to deny health care to trans youth are ‘politics’

Former Pa. health secretary opened Victory Fund conference

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Assistant Health Secretary Rachel Levine speaks at the Victory Fund's 2021 International LGBTQ Leaders Conference in D.C. on Dec. 2, 2021. (Washington Blade photo by Michael Key)

Assistant Health Secretary Rachel Levine on Thursday criticized efforts to prevent transgender youth from accessing health care.

“Unfortunately, some have fought to prevent transgender youth from accessing the health care that they need,” she said in a speech she delivered at the opening of the Victory Fund’s 2021 International LGBTQ Leaders Conference that took place in-person at the JW Marriott in downtown D.C. “This is politics and this politics has no place in health care and public health and they defy the established standards of care written by medical experts.”

Levine was Pennsylvania’s Health Secretary until President Biden nominated her to become assistant secretary of health.

She became the first openly trans person confirmed by the U.S. Senate in March. Levine in October became a four-star admiral in the U.S. Public Health Service.

The conference will take place in-person and virtually through Sunday.

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VIDEO: Biden addresses advocates on World AIDS Day

President says end to transmission ‘within striking distance’

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President Biden addressed advocates on World AIDS Day.

President Biden, in remarks delivered Wednesday at the White House in recognition of World AIDS Day, said to advocates in the fight against HIV/AIDS the end to HIV transmission was near.

“It’s because of you and it’s not hyperbole to suggest that we are within striking distance of eliminating HIV transmission, within striking distance,” Biden told attendees in the East Room.

Joining Biden in the East Room were Secretary of Health & Human Services Xavier Becerra and Gabriel Maldonado, an HIV/AIDS Advocate and founder of TruEvolution, a Riverside, Calif.-based LGBTQ group.

Biden also during his remarks touted having made the appointment of Harold Phillips to lead the White House Office of National AIDS Policy — a position that had gone vacant throughout the entirety of the Trump administration.

Notably, Biden talked about the Ending the HIV Epidemic plan, an initiate health officials started in the Trump administration, by saying was to beat HIV domestically by 2030. That was initial target date when the initiative, but Biden had campaigned on defeating by HIV by 2025 to the skepticism off observers.

Watch Biden full remarks below:

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Biden recognizes LGBTQ survivors in World AIDS Day statement

In contrast, Trump consistently omitted sexual minorities

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President Biden recognized LGBTQ people as among the survivors of the HIV/AIDS epidemic on Tuesday in a statement recognizing World AIDS Day, marking a departure from consistent omissions of the LGBTQ community under the Trump administration.

“Ending the HIV epidemic is within our reach, and we are committed to finishing this work,” Biden said. “On World AIDS Day, we rededicate ourselves to building on the progress of the last 4 decades; upholding and advancing human rights; supporting research, science, and data-driven solutions; expanding access to housing, education, and economic empowerment; and fighting stigma and discrimination. No one living with HIV should suffer the undeserved guilt and prejudice that too many continue to experience.”

Biden, as the world recognizes World AIDS Day on Dec. 1, enumerates LGBTQ people as survivors in a paragraph acknowledging the coronavirus pandemic has presented new obstacles in efforts to beat HIV/AIDS.

“The COVID-19 pandemic has added to the challenges our heroic health care and frontline workers face, yet they continue to deliver essential HIV prevention services and provide vital care and treatment to people living with HIV,” Biden said. “The pandemic has also interrupted HIV research and highlighted the work that still remains to achieve equitable access to HIV prevention, care, and treatment in every community — particularly for communities of color, adolescent girls and young women, and the LGBTQI+ community.”

The inclusion of LGBTQ people in a statement recognizing World AIDS Day stands in contrast to statements from President Trump, who consistently declined to mention the LGBTQ community in each of his statements. The consistent omissions took place even though top health officials under the Trump administration started the Ending the HIV Epidemic initiative, which seeks to beat HIV/AIDS by 2030.

Last year, White House Press Secretary Kayleigh McEnany, asked by the Washington Blade why the LGBTQ community was missing from the 2020 statement, responded with a false statement Trump was the first to observe World AIDS Day by adorning the White House with a large red AIDS ribbon. In fact, the practice began under President George W. Bush and had continued through Obama and Trump administrations.

The inclusion of LGBTQ people in Biden’s World AIDS Day statement is consistent with former President Obama mentioning LGBTQ people as among the survivors of HIV/AIDS in his final World AIDS Day statement. In 2016, Obama acknowledged “gay and bisexual men, transgender people, youth, black and Latino Americans, people living in the Southern United States, and people who inject drugs are at a disproportionate risk” of the disease.

Biden in his World AIDS Day statement says his administration “remains steadfast in our efforts to end the HIV epidemic,” ticking off policies his administration has pursued, including a budget request of $670 million to fight HIV/AIDS domestically and support for global initiatives to fight HIV/AIDS, which he said has save more than 21 million lives.

“This remarkable progress over the past 18 years has been made possible through strong, bipartisan United States leadership and American generosity,” Biden said.

Read Biden’s full statement below:

WORLD AIDS DAY, 2021
 
– – – – – – –
 
BY THE PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES OF AMERICA
 
A PROCLAMATION
For decades, World AIDS Day has been recognized as an opportunity for people around the world to stand together in the fight against HIV.  This year on World AIDS Day, we are focused on addressing health inequities and inequalities and ensuring that the voices of people with HIV are at the center of our work to end the HIV epidemic globally.

While we have made remarkable progress in the 40 years since the first-known reported case of AIDS, this disease remains a serious public health challenge — and we join the international community to honor and remember the more than 36 million people, including 700,000 Americans, who have tragically died from AIDS-related illness since the start of the epidemic.  We also renew our commitment to stand with the nearly 38 million people living with HIV around the world as we pursue our shared goal of ending the HIV epidemic.

The COVID-19 pandemic has added to the challenges our heroic health care and frontline workers face, yet they continue to deliver essential HIV prevention services and provide vital care and treatment to people living with HIV.  The pandemic has also interrupted HIV research and highlighted the work that still remains to achieve equitable access to HIV prevention, care, and treatment in every community — particularly for communities of color, adolescent girls and young women, and the LGBTQI+ community.

My Administration remains steadfast in our efforts to end the HIV epidemic, confront systems and policies that perpetuate entrenched health inequities, and build a healthier world for all people. Earlier this year, I reinstated the White House Office of National AIDS Policy to coordinate our efforts to reduce the number of HIV infections across our Nation.  This week, my Administration is releasing an updated National HIV/AIDS Strategy to decrease health inequities in new diagnoses and improve access to comprehensive, evidence-based HIV-prevention tools. This updated strategy will make equity a cornerstone of our response and bring a whole-of-government approach to fighting HIV.

My budget request includes $670 million to support the Department of Health and Human Services’ Ending the HIV Epidemic in the U.S. Initiative — to reduce HIV diagnoses and AIDS-related deaths.  My Administration has also strengthened the Presidential Advisory Council on HIV/AIDS by adding members from diverse backgrounds who bring the knowledge and expertise needed to further our Nation’s HIV response. 

My Administration is committed to helping the world end the AIDS epidemic as a public health threat by 2030.  Through the United States President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief (PEPFAR), we have saved more than 21 million lives, prevented millions of HIV infections, and supported at least 20 countries around the world to reach epidemic control of HIV or achieve their ambitious HIV treatment targets.  This remarkable progress over the past 18 years has been made possible through strong, bipartisan United States leadership and American generosity.  Now, together with partner governments and communities, my Administration is setting a bold vision for achieving sustained epidemic control of HIV by supporting equitable health services and solutions, contributing to improved health for all in PEPFAR-supported countries, and working with the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria; UNAIDS; and other regional and local partners toward the goal of ending the HIV epidemic everywhere.

Ending the HIV epidemic is within our reach, and we are committed to finishing this work.  On World AIDS Day, we rededicate ourselves to building on the progress of the last 4 decades; upholding and advancing human rights; supporting research, science, and data-driven solutions; expanding access to housing, education, and economic empowerment; and fighting stigma and discrimination.  No one living with HIV should suffer the undeserved guilt and prejudice that too many continue to experience.  We must innovate and explore new ways to help address HIV/AIDS in communities here at home and around the world.

NOW, THEREFORE, I, JOSEPH R. BIDEN JR., President of the United States of America, by virtue of the authority vested in me by the Constitution and the laws of the United States, do hereby proclaim December 1, 2021, as World AIDS Day.  I urge the Governors of the United States and its Territories, and the American people to join the HIV community in activities to remember those who have lost their lives to AIDS and to provide support, dignity, and compassion to those living with HIV.

IN WITNESS WHEREOF, I have hereunto set my hand this thirtieth day of November, in the year of our Lord two thousand twenty-one, and of the Independence of the United States of America the two hundred and forty-sixth.
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