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Nearly 200 lawmakers seek action from Obama for LGBT workers

Dem leaders, zero Republicans, call for executive order

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Steny Hoyer, Maryland, United States House of Representatives, gay news, Washington Blade, Democratic Party, U.S. Congress
Steny Hoyer, Maryland, United States House of Representatives, gay news, Washington Blade, Democratic Party, U.S. Congress

House Minority Whip Steny Hoyer (D-Md.) was the highest-ranking congressman to call for the ENDA executive order. (Washington Blade photo by Michael Key)

As legislation to protect LGBT workers from discrimination continues to languish in the U.S. House, an unprecedented number of nearly 200 lawmakers on Tuesday — including members of House Democratic leadership — called on President Obama to take administrative action.

In a letter dated March 18, 148 House members and 47 senators — making for a total of 195 lawmakers — urged Obama to sign an executive order barring federal contractors from discriminating on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity as part of his plan for a “Year of Action” in 2014.

“As we continue to work towards final passage of the Employment Non-Discrimination Act (ENDA) with strong bipartisan support, we urge you to take action now to protection millions of workers across the country from the threat of discrimination simply because of who they are or who they love,” the letter says. “We are committed to doing all that we can in Congress to get ENDA to your desk this year; however, there is no reason you cannot immediately act by taking this important step.”

The letter says “time is of an essence” for a signature on the executive order because even when that happens, a process that “will take many months, if not longer” to implement the directive fully will be necessary.

In the House, the letter was circulated by the LGBT Equality Caucus along with Reps. Frank Pallone (D-N.J.) and Lois Capps (D-Calif.), while ENDA’s chief sponsor in the Senate Jeff Merkley (D-Ore.) circulated the letter in that chamber with Sens. Tammy Baldwin (D-Wis.) and Tom Harkin (D-Iowa).

It’s not the first time members of Congress have penned their names to a letter calling on Obama to take administrative action to protect LGBT workers from discrimination. In 2011, Pallone and Capps led an effort to sign a similar letter, which at the time was signed by 72 House members. In 2013, they circulated another letter on the issue signed by 110 House members as Merkley submitted yet another missive signed by 37 senators.

The series of letters from lawmakers over the course of recent years — in addition to regular questioning on the issue for White House Press Secretary Jay Carney — have been to Obama on the executive order as LGBT advocates have pressed for it for some time.

But the latest missive has more lawmakers calling for the executive order than the 2013 letter and, for the first time, has members of Democratic leadership as signatories: House Minority Whip Steny Hoyer (D-Md.) and Assistant Minority Leader Jim Clyburn (D-S.C.). The Blade first reported Hoyer would sign the letter on Monday.

Although House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi has publicly said she supports the executive order as far back as 2011 she didn’t sign the letter. Drew Hammill, a Pelosi spokesperson, said his boss rarely signs group letters and would raise the issue in a private missive to Obama.

Also missing from the letter is Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.), who also gave his green light for the potential directive in January. Reid’s office indicated that he doesn’t typically sign member letters.

Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz (D-Fla.), chair of the Democratic National Committee, also didn’t pen her name to the letter. Last week, sources told the Blade she had discouraged members from signing previous iterations of the letter, but her office called that assertion a “bald-faced lie.” She hasn’t articulated support for the executive order.

Not a single Republican signed the letter. Not one of the 10 Republicans who voted for the Employment Non-Discrimination Act in the Senate late last year or any of the six GOP co-sponsors of ENDA in the House penned their name to the missive.

Tico Almeida, president of Freedom to Work, said his organization helped to secure signatures for the letter — and hopes it’ll be the last time the effort is necessary.

“This week, we collaborated with the Equality Caucus for the third time to collect signatures on the 2014 letter to President Obama on the same topic,” Almeida said. “These year-after-year delays from the White House are making this all start to feel like Bill Murray’s ‘Groundhog Day,’ and I really hope we don’t have to push for yet another congressional letter to President Obama in 2015 or 2016 or a letter to President Hillary Clinton in 2017. It’s long past time for President Obama to keep his word and create LGBT workplace protections at the companies that profit from taxpayer-funded contracts.”

The White House has responded to other letters like this one in the past by saying it has no updates to provide on a “hypothetical” executive order protecting LGBT workers. It didn’t respond to comment on the latest letter.

Last week, Carney reiterated Obama’s support for the Employment Non-Discrimination Act when asked about the executive order.

“Our view is that Congress ought to pass the Employment Non-Discrimination Act,” Carney said. “I don’t have any updates for you on possible executive orders. What we’re focused on is on a legislative remedy that would be more comprehensive and that has already seen progress in Congress. So I don’t have a view to express on that particular issue.”

Lawmakers who organized the signature-gathering for the letter in both the House and Senate issued their own words on the importance of Obama signing the executive order.

Merkley said signing the executive order would help ensure LGBT people have access to equal opportunity in the workplace.

“All Americans deserve fairness in the workplace,” Merkley said. “There is no reason to wait any longer to extend non-discrimination policies to federal contractors and protect millions of Americans from being fired for who they are or who they love.”

Capps said in a statement she hopes Obama “will immediately sign an executive order” to protect LGBT workers against discrimination.

“This issue has lingered for far too long and this year, in the president’s year of action, he should take this opportunity to expand employment protections,” Capps said. “Doing so would be a significant and meaningful advancement for LGBT Americans—legally, politically, and culturally. With workers across the country facing discrimination every day, the time is now to make sure workplace discrimination isn’t supported by taxpayer funds.”

As Capps observes, the Williams Institute published a report finding that the executive would extend non-discrimination protections to the estimated 16.5 million employees at federal contractors. (The number of people within this population who are LGBT is estimated to be smaller and between 400,000 and 600,000 people.)

Capps added that she been pushing Obama to sign the executive order for years and “will not stop pushing this issue — it is time for the president to act.”

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2 Comments

2 Comments

  1. Flynn Sneed

    March 18, 2014 at 10:33 pm

    "As we continue to work towards final passage of the Employment Non-Discrimination Act (ENDA) with strong bipartisan support…"

    Has the definition of bipartisan changed recently?

    "Not a single Republican signed the letter. Not one of the 10 Republicans who voted for the Employment Non-Discrimination Act in the Senate late last year or any of the six GOP co-sponsors of ENDA in the House penned their name to the missive."

    Further, (6) out of (232) and (10) out of (45) is strong?

  2. diane nero

    March 19, 2014 at 11:11 am

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World

Petition urges White House to develop plan to protect LGBTQ Afghans

Taliban regained control of country on Aug. 15

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Two men in Kabul, Afghanistan, in July 2021 (Photo courtesy of Dr. Ahmad Qais Munzahim)

More than 10,000 people have signed a petition that urges the Biden administration to do more to help LGBTQ Afghans who remain in Afghanistan after the Taliban regained control of the country.

The Human Rights Campaign; the Council for Global Equality; Immigration Equality; Rainbow Railroad; the Organization for Refuge, Asylum and Migration and the International Refugee Assistance Project on Friday presented to the White House the petition that urges the administration to adopt “a 10-point action plan … to expedite and ease the refugee and asylum process for LGBTQI Afghans.”

The same six groups last month urged the Biden administration to adopt a plan that would “prioritize the evacuation and resettlement of vulnerable refugee populations, including LGBTQI people, and ensure that any transitory stay in a third country is indeed temporary by expediting refugee processing.” The groups, among other things, asked the White House to “speak out forcefully against human rights abuses by the new Taliban regime and any increased targeting of vulnerable communities, including LGBTQI people, and use existing mechanisms to sanction and hold accountable perpetrators of human rights abuse.”

The Taliban entered Kabul, the Afghan capital, on Aug. 15 and regained control of the country.

A Taliban judge in July said the group would once again execute people if it were to return to power in Afghanistan.

Rainbow Railroad and Immigration Equality are among the other groups that have continued their efforts to evacuate LGBTQ Afghans since American troops completed their withdrawal from the country on Aug. 30. Some of the 50 Afghan human rights activists who Taylor Hirschberg, a researcher at the Columbia Mailman School of Public Health who is also a Hearst Foundation scholar, has been able to help leave the country are LGBTQ.

“We reiterate our call for President Biden to adopt the 10-point policy plan which will expedite and ease the refugee process for LGBTQI Afghans,” said Human Rights Campaign Senior Vice President for Policy and Political Affairs JoDee Winterhof in a press release. “The 10,000+ people who signed our petition have demonstrated that they want the United States, long a beacon of refuge for those fleeing persecution, to take action to protect LGBTQI Afghans—a vulnerable group who risk oppression, even death, simply for who they are or who they love. Now is the time for action.”

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Utah

VIDEO: Utah deal promoted as national model for LGBTQ rights, religious liberty

Data finds state has 2nd highest support for LGBTQ rights

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(Screen capture via YouTube)

A new video from the premier LGBTQ group in Utah, challenging the idea LGBTQ rights must be at odds with religious liberty, promotes an agreement reached in the state as a potential model to achieve a long sought-after update to civil rights law at the federal level.

The video, published Friday by Equality Utah, focuses on a 2015 agreement in Utah between the supporters of LGBTQ rights and the Mormon Church to enact a compromise acceptable to both sides. The agreement by those two sides led to an LGBTQ civil rights law in the state, which has Republican control of the state legislature and the governor’s mansion.

Troy Williams, executive director of Equality Utah, says in the video dialogue is key to achieving meaningful success, whether its among the people of Utah, a state legislature or lawmakers in Congress.

“When you are working with LGBT rights in a state like Utah, and you want to advance legal equality, you can’t do it without working with Republicans, with conservative, with people of faith,” Williams says.

Williams, speaking with the Washington Blade over a Zoom call, said the main audience for the video is people on “the center right and the center left” willing to listen to other side when it comes to LGBTQ rights and religious liberty.

“People that have the courage to reach out to each other, and sit down across from each other and say, ‘Hey look, let’s hammer this out,” Williams said. “That’s who my audience is.”

Not only did Utah enact non-discrimination protections for LGBTQ people, but the state under a Republican governor administratively banned widely discredited conversion therapy for youth. When lawmakers proposed legislation that would ban transgender youth from competing in school sports, the proposal was scuttled when Gov. Spencer Cox (whom Williams called a “super Mormon”) said he’d veto it after it came to his desk.

Marina Gomberg, a former board for Equality Utah, is another voice in the video seeking dispel the narrative religious liberty and LGBTQ rights are in conflict.

“in order to protect LGBTQ people, we don have to deny religious liberty, and in order to provide protections for religious liberties, we don’t have to deny LGBTQ people,” Gomberg says. “The idea that we do is a fallacy that Utah has dismantled.”

In July, new polling demonstrated the surprisingly the Utah, despite being a conservative state, has the second highest percentage of state population in support for non-discrimination protections for LGBTQ people. The data Public Religion Research Institute from 77 percent of Utah residents support LGBTQ people, which is just behind New Hampshire at 81 percent.

Tyler Deaton, senior adviser for the pro-LGBTQ American Unity Fund, said the Utah agreement demonstrates the possibility of reaching an agreement at the federal level once “second order” issues are put into perspective.

“The first order question has to be how are we winning the culture,” Deaton said. “Do people even want to pass the bill? And if they do, you then figure out the details.”

The American Unity Fund has helped promote as a path forward for LGBTQ non-discrimination at the federal level the Fairness for For All Act, legislation seeking to reach a middle ground on LGBTQ rights and religious freedom. Polling earlier this year found 57 percent of the American public back a bipartisan solution in Congress to advance LGBTQ civil rights.

Supporters of the Equality Act, the more established vehicle for LGBTQ rights before Congress, say the Fairness for For All Act would give too many carve-out for LGBTQ rights in the name of religious freedom. The Equality Act, however, is all but dead in Congress and has shown no movement in the U.S. Senate.

Skeptics of the Utah law would point out the law doesn’t address public accommodations, one of the more challenging aspects in the fight for LGBTQ rights and one or remaining gaps in civil rights protections for LGBTQ people in the aftermath of the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision last year in Bostock v. Clayton County. As a result, it’s perfectly legal in Utah for a business owner to discriminate against LGBTQ coming as patrons.

Williams, however, shrugged off the idea the lack of public accommodations protections in Utah make the agreement in the state makes it any less of a model, making the case the spirit behind the deal is what matters.

“I think copying and pasting Utah’s law doesn’t work for lots of reasons,” Wililams said. “What’s most important is a model of collaboration because when you are sitting around the table with each other — Democrats and Republicans, LGBTQ people and people of faith — that’s when the transformation happens. That is when the mutual respect is really forged.”

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Youngkin reiterates opposition to marriage equality

Va. gubernatorial candidate says issue ‘legally acceptable’ in state

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(Photo courtesy of Twitter)

Glenn Youngkin in an interview with the Associated Press has reiterated his opposition to marriage rights for same-sex couples.

Youngkin—a Republican who is running against Democrat Terry McAuliffe to succeed Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam—said in an interview published on Friday that he feels “called to love everyone.” Youngkin then reiterated his opposition to marriage equality before he added it is “legally acceptable” in the state.

“I, as governor, will support that,” Youngkin told the AP.

McAuliffe was Virginia’s governor from 2014-2018.

Same-sex couples began to legally marry in Virginia a few months after McAuliffe took office.

McAuliffe in 2014 became the first governor of a Southern state to officiate a same-sex wedding. The lesbian couple who McAuliffe married recently appeared in one of his campaign ads.

McAuliffe on Friday criticized Youngkin. “As governor, I worked my heart out to keep Virginia open and welcoming to all,” said McAuliffe in a tweet. “This type of bigotry and intolerance has no place in our commonwealth.”

The anti-LGBTQ Family Research Council, which the Southern Poverty Law Center has categorized as an extremist group, earlier this month endorsed Youngkin, but Log Cabin Republicans are among the groups that have backed his campaign. The Human Rights Campaign in 2019 named Youngkin’s former company, the Carlyle Group, as a “Best Place to Work for LGBTQ Equality” in its annual Corporate Equality Index.

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