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6 hints that ENDA exec order may be coming

Despite White House comments, evidence exists directive under consideration

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Jay Carney, White House, gay news, Washington Blade
White House Press Secretary, Jay Carney, Gay News, Washington Blade

White House Press Secretary, Jay Carney insists an executive order for LGBT workers is “hypothetical” (Washington Blade photo by Damien Salas).

If you tuned into his daily news conferences, you might get the sense from White House Press Secretary Jay Carney that the administration isn’t actively considering an executive order that would bar federal contractors from discriminating against LGBT workers.

One word that Carney often uses to describe the much sought directive is “hypothetical.”

That’s the word he used on Thursday when asked about the latest piece of evidence the order may be forthcoming — White House counselor John Podesta’s assertion on Bloomberg TV  that the executive order is “under consideration.”

“I don’t have any updates on that hypothetical EO; I can tell you that we strongly support action by the House in keeping with what the Senate did to get the Employment Non-Discrimination Act passed into law,” Carney said.

Speaking more to the point of Podesta’s assertion about an LGBT directive, Carney said “we look at and consider a lot things,” which neither confirms nor denies the directive is being discussed in the West Wing.

Instead, Carney took the opportunity to highlight President Obama’s support for ENDA, legislation that would bar employers from discriminating against or firing LGBT workers.

“If you look at the data on this issue — and specifically on the Employment Non-Discrimination Act — I think it is overwhelmingly demonstrated that this has the support of the American people across the country,” Carney said. “And as I’ve said again and again, this is — history is moving on this issue in the right direction, and opposing these kinds of things means finding yourself on the wrong side of history.”

The Senate passed ENDA on a bipartisan basis in September by a 64-32 vote. But the bill has seen no movement in the House, where Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) has continually said he opposes it. Last week, the Washington Blade reported that Boehner told the LGBT Equality Caucus there’s “no way” ENDA will get done this year.

Carney’s characterization of the executive order as hypothetical is riling at least one LGBT advocate, Freedom to Work’s Tico Almeida, who continues to say the directive is anything but hypothetical.

“There was nothing hypothetical about President Obama’s campaign promise to the LGBT community that he would take executive action to combat workplace discrimination at federal contractors,” Almeida told the Blade. “We’ll keep pushing until these workplace protections become a reality. It’s long past time to sign.”

It’s not the first time in recent memory the White House referred to the order as hypothetical. Just last week, he referred to the order as “hypothetical” in response to questioning from the Blade that ended testily.

After the conclusion of the briefing on Thursday, the Washington Blade shouted out to Carney: If the executive order were under consideration would you say so publicly? The White House spokesperson gave no response.

Evidence exists the White House is internally engaged in a process that would likely lead to President Obama signing the executive order. The Washington Blade has identified six hints the order is forthcoming despite the lack of updates in the White House briefing room.

1. Podesta’s comments the executive order is ‘under consideration’

The stongest evidence is Podesta — a known proponent of U.S. presidents taking executive action from his previous work heading the Center for American Progress  — unequivocally saying just last week the LGBT executive order is “under consideration” when asked about it by Bloomberg News.

“Well, what he said in the State of the Union was he was going to require federal contractors to pay a minimum wage of $10.10,” Podesta said. “The order that you’re talking about is under consideration at the White House. We’re looking at that.”

Asked by Bloomberg what Obama is likely to do, Podesta said, “Well, you know, I’m not going to prejudge that.” Podesta said there’s no good case for workplace discrimination.

2. DNC Treasurer e-mail saying ‘process’ holding up directive

Along those lines is an e-mail from Andy Tobias, treasurer of the Democratic National Committee, to LGBT donors on an off-the-record listserv indicating everyone in the administration is in favor of the executive order and the only thing holding it up is a “process.” The email, dated May 30, 2013, was leaked to the Washington Blade last year.

“I have spoken to people in an attempt to understand better myself what the delay is — and to lobby for its getting done,” Tobias wrote. “Those people have left me satisfied that our frustration is heard, that the hold-up is not staffers who oppose our rights but a process that is broader than just this one very important and long delayed agenda item.”

Tobias, who’s gay, indicates later in the email he’s convinced the order will happen at some point, noting other LGBT achievements and saying, “But they got done and this will get done too.“

3. White House continues to ‘study’ issue

In April 2012, when Senior Adviser to the President Valerie Jarrett met with LGBT advocates and told them the executive order wouldn’t happen at this time, one media report suggested forward movement was still happening.

ThinkProgress published a piece quoting Winnie Stachelberg, vice president of external relations at the Center for American Progress, saying instead of issuing the order the White House Council of Economic Advisers “will launch a study to better understand workplace discrimination.”

When asked about that quote by the Washington Blade close to the one-year anniversary of that meeting, White House spokesperson Shin Inouye said, “We continue to study the issue.” Sources familiar with the meeting said Jarrett didn’t say CEA would conduct the study, but noted there are multiple approaches and gave CEA as an example.

The White House has since declined to give more detail on the nature of the study — such as its purpose or whether it’s being done as a formal commission or an informal examination — nor say when it’ll be complete.

4. Obama’s 2008 campaign promise

LGBT advocates — including at Freedom to Work and the Human Rights Campaign — continue to say President Obama promised to sign the executive order when competing against Hillary Clinton for the Democratic nomination for president.

Their evidence it’s a campaign promise: an apparent 2008 questionnaire from the GLBT Houston Political Caucus that emerged in 2012 during Obama’s re-election campaign. Although it says nothing explicit about an executive order, Obama was asked if he supports a formal written policy against LGBT discrimination for federal contractors. The response was simply “yes.”

The White House has dodged when asked to comment on whether the president believes the order is a campaign promise. Noel Freeman, current president of the caucus, told the Blade he’s unable to verify the authenticity of the questionnaire.

5. Labor, Justice departments OK exec order: sources

Back when the idea of an executive order was gaining ground prior to the 2012 election, sources close to the administration told the Blade the Labor and Justice departments had green-lighted the directive, saying it could be implemented if the president signed it.

U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder is slated to give the keynote address at the Human Rights Campaign’s gala in New York City on Saturday. The content of his speech is thus far under wraps, but given the Justice Department’s work on this issue, it’s not outside the realm of possibility that he’ll make an announcement regarding the executive order.

6. Obama saying he’ll use his pen if Congress fails to act

The last piece of evidence suggesting an order may be forthcoming: President Onama’s declaration during the State of the Union address that he’ll take executive action if Congress refuses to act on his agenda.

“America does not stand still — and neither will I,” Obama said. “So wherever and whenever I can take steps without legislation to expand opportunity for more American families, that’s what I’m going to do.”

Obama has already acted on this threat by pledging to sign an executive order requiring federal contractors to pay employees a minimum wage of $10.10 an hour.

Given the media attention on the LGBT executive order, it stands to reason that issuing the order if Congress doesn’t move forward with ENDA has crossed Obama’s mind.

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United Nations

UN Security Council urged to focus on LGBTQ, intersex rights

U.S. Ambassador to the U.N. Linda Thomas-Greenfield chaired Monday meeting

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The United Nations (Washington Blade photo by Michael K. Lavers)

UNITED NATIONS — U.S. Ambassador to the U.N. Linda Thomas-Greenfield on Monday chaired a meeting at the United Nations that focused on the integration of LGBTQ and intersex rights into the U.N. Security Council’s work.

The U.S. Mission to the U.N. co-sponsored the meeting along with Albania, Brazil, Cyprus, the Czech Republic, France, Greece, Japan, Malta, Switzerland, the U.K. and the LGBTI Core Group, a group of U.N. countries that have pledged to support LGBTQ and intersex rights.

Thomas-Greenfield announced four “specific steps the U.S. will take to better integrate LGBTQI+ concerns into the U.N. Security Council’s daily work.”

• A regular review of the situation of LGBTQ and intersex people in conflict zones on the Security Council’s agenda that “includes regularly soliciting information from LGBTQI+ human rights defenders.

• Encouraging the U.N. Secretariat and other U.N. officials to “integrate LGBTQI+ concerns and perspectives in their regular reports” to the Security Council.

• A commitment “to raising abuses and violations of the human rights of LGBTQI+ people in our national statements in the Security Council.”

• A promise to propose, “when appropriate, language in Security Council products responding to the situation of LGBTQI+ individuals.”

“We are proud of these commitments,” said Thomas-Greenfield during Monday’s meeting. “They are just the beginning.”

U.S. Ambassador to the U.N. Linda Thomas-Greenfield speaks outside the U.N. Security Council on March 20, 2023. (Washington Blade photo by Michael K. Lavers)

Victor Madrigal-Borloz, the independent U.N. expert on LGBTQ and intersex issues, provided a briefing on LGBTQ and intersex rights around the world. 

“My mandate is based on one single fact: Diversity and sexual orientation and gender identity is a universal feature of humanity,” he said. “For too long, it has been made invisible in national level contributions to peace and security, including policies and programs and in the political and programmatic action of the United Nations.” 

María Susana Peralta of Colombia Diversa — an LGBTQ and intersex advocacy group in Colombia that participated in talks between the country’s government and the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia that led to an LGBTQ-inclusive peace agreement then-President Juan Manuel Santos and then-FARC Commander Rodrigo “Timochenko” Londoño signed in 2016 — and Afghan LGBT Organization Director Artemis Akbary also took part in the meeting.

Peralta said Colombia’s peace agreement “has created a standard by which other countries can use,” but noted the country’s Special Justice for Peace has yet to prosecute anyone who committed human rights abuses based on sexual orientation or gender identity during the war.

Akbary noted the persecution of LGBTQ and intersex people in Afghanistan has increased since the Taliban regained control of the country in 2021. Akbary also said LGBTQ and intersex Afghans cannot flee to Iran and other neighboring countries because of criminalization laws.

“The whole world is watching as the rights of LGBTQ people are systematically violated in Afghanistan,” said Akbary. “LGBTQ people on the ground in Afghanistan need and deserve protection.”

Representatives of U.N. delegations from France, Brazil, Albania, Japan, Ecuador, Switzerland, the U.K., Malta, Colombia, South Africa, Ireland, Germany, the Netherlands and the European Union spoke in favor of the integration of LGBTQ and intersex rights into the Security Council’s work.

“A person’s actual or perceived sexual orientation, gender identity or gender expression or sex characteristics often increases the risk of of becoming the target in conflict and crisis situations,” said Luis Guilherme Parga Cintra of Brazil.

British Ambassador to the U.N. General Assembly Richard Crocker made a similar point.

“We know the conflicts have disproportionate impact on marginalized communities: Women and girls, persons with disabilities, members of ethnic and religious minority groups,” he said. “It is only right the Security Council is discussing this issue today.”

Ambassador Karlito Nunes, who is Timor-Leste’s permanent U.N. representative, read a statement in support of the Security Council discussions about LGBTQ and intersex issues. Representatives from China, Russia and Ghana who spoke said the Security Council is not the appropriate place to discuss them.

“Sexual orientation is an individual choice of every individual,” said the Russian representative.

The meeting took place less than 13 months after Russia launched its war against Ukraine. 

A Russian airstrike on March 1, 2022, killed Elvira Schemur, a 21-year-old law school student who volunteered for Kharkiv Pride and Kyiv Pride, while she was volunteering inside the Ukrainian city of Kharkiv’s regional administration building. Activists with whom the Washington Blade has spoken said LGBTQ and intersex people who lived in Russia-controlled areas of the country did not go outside and tried to hide their sexual orientation or gender identity because they were afraid of Russian soldiers.

A Pride commemoration in Kharkiv, Ukraine, on Sept. 25, 2022. (Photo courtesy of Sphere Women’s Association)

The Security Council’s first-ever LGBTQ-specific meeting, which focused on the Islamic State’s persecution of LGBTQ Syrians and Iraqis, took place in 2015. Then-U.S. Ambassador to the U.N. Samantha Power, who is now director of the U.S. Agency for International Development, and then-International Gay and Lesbian Human Rights Commission Executive Director Jessica Stern, who is now the special U.S. envoy for the promotion of LGBTQ and intersex rights, are among those who participated.

Stern, along with U.S. Reps. David Cicilline (D-R.I.) and Ritchie Torres (D-N.Y.), attended the meeting alongside OutRight International Executive Director Maria Sjödin, among others.

Jessica Stern, the special U.S. envoy for the promotion of LGBTQ and intersex rights abroad, center, speaks outside the U.N. Security Council on March 20, 2023. (Washington Blade photo by Michael K. Lavers)

The Security Council in June 2016 formally condemned the Pulse nightclub in Orlando, Fla. The U.N. Human Rights Council a few months later appointed Vitit Muntarbhorn as the first independent U.N. expert on LGBTQ and intersex issues. (Madrigal-Borloz succeeded Muntarbhorn in 2018.)

Then-U.S. Ambassador to the U.N. Kelly Knight Craft and then-U.S. Ambassador to Germany Richard Grenell in 2019 during a U.N. General Assembly meeting hosted an event that focused on efforts to decriminalize consensual same-sex sexual relations around the world. 

President Joe Biden in 2021 signed a memo that committed the U.S. to promoting LGBTQ and intersex rights abroad as part of the Biden-Harris administration’s overall foreign policy. Then-State Department spokesperson Ned Price later told the Washington Blade the decriminalization of consensual same-sex sexual relations is one of the White House’s five priorities as it relates to the promotion of LGBTQ and intersex rights overseas.

The U.S., the U.K., France, China and Russia are the Security Council’s five permanent members. Albania, Brazil, Ecuador, Gabon, Ghana, Japan, Malta, Mozambique, Switzerland and the United Arab Emirates are the 10 non-permanent members.

Ghana and the United Arab Emirates are two of the dozens of countries in which consensual same-sex sexual relations remain criminalized. 

“Today’s meeting was an important first step toward further concrete actions the Security Council, and all parts of the U.N., can take to integrate LGBTQI+ human rights, experiences, and perspectives into their day-to-day work,” Thomas-Greenfield told the Blade in a statement after Monday’s meeting. “We’re proud of the four commitments we made today, and we will keep working to make sure this topic remains on the Council’s agenda.”

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World

Pope Francis: Gender ideology is ‘one of the most dangerous colonizations’ in the world

Argentina newspaper published interview with pontiff on March 10

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Pope Francis (Photo by palinchak via Bigstock)

Pope Francis earlier this month said gender ideology is “one of the most dangerous ideological colonizations” in the world today.

“Gender ideology, today, is one of the most dangerous ideological colonizations,” Francis told La Nación, an Argentine newspaper, in an interview that was published on March 10. “Why is it dangerous? Because it blurs differences and the value of men and women.”

“All humanity is the tension of differences,” added the pontiff. “It is to grow through the tension of differences. The question of gender is diluting the differences and making the world the same, all dull, all alike, and that is contrary to the human vocation.”

The Vatican’s tone towards LGBTQ and intersex issues has softened since since Francis assumed the papacy in 2013.

Francis publicly backs civil unions for same-sex couples, and has described laws that criminalize homosexuality are “unjust.” Church teachings on homosexuality and gender identity have nevertheless not changed since Francis became pope.

Francis told La Nación that he talks about gender ideology “because some people are a bit naive and believe that it is the way to progress.” The Catholic News Agency further notes Francis also said these people “do not distinguish what is respect for sexual diversity or diverse sexual preferences from what is already an anthropology of gender, which is extremely dangerous because it eliminates differences, and that erases humanity, the richness of humanity, both personal, cultural, and social, the diversities and the tensions between differences.”

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Maryland

Md. House of Delegates approves transgender rights bill

State Medicaid program would be required to cover gender-affirming treatment

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Md. state Sen. Mary Washington (D-Baltimore City) speaks at a press conference for the Trans Health Equity Act in Annapolis, Md., on Feb. 14, 2023. (Washington Blade photo by Linus Berggren)

The Maryland House of Delegates on Saturday approved a bill that would require the state’s Medicaid program to cover gender-affirming treatment for transgender people.

House Bill 283, or the Trans Health Equity Act, passed by a 93-37 vote margin. The measure now goes before the Maryland Senate.

“Proud that the MD House of Delegates passed the Trans Health Equity Act with such a strong majority,” tweeted state Del. Anne Kaiser (D-Montgomery County), who introduced HB 283.

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