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Backlash against Obama's Decision Not to Issue Executive Order
Posted by: Claude J. Summers on 04/16/12
Last updated on: 04/17/12
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Tico Almeida discusses Obama's decision with Eliot Spitzer on Current TV.

A backlash has developed against President Obama's decision not to issue an executive order prohibiting employment discrimination by federal contractors. It was widely expected that last week the President would announce an executive order banning discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity by federal contractors; however, on April 11, White House officials informed gay activists that the President would not be issuing such an order "at this time." Since then, there has been a growing backlash against the decision.

It was widely believed that President Obama would expand Executive Order 11246, which was issued by President Lyndon Johnson in 1965 to prohibit discrimination on the basis of race, color, religion, sex, or national origin by federal contractors doing more than $10,000 per year of government work. It was reported that the Labor Department and the Justice Department had approved the addition of sexual orientation and gender identity to the Executive Order's protected classes.

Chris Geidner of MetroWeekly reported that during the 2008 presidential campaign, candidate Obama pledged that he would support a "formal written policy of non-discrimination that includes sexual orientation and gender identity or expression . . . for all Federal contractors."

However, on April 11, activists who were summoned to the White House were told that while the administration would continue to engage corporate America in pushing for the Employment Non-Discrimination Act [ENDA], a long-pending bill that would ban employment discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity, "We do not expect that an executive order on LGBT nondiscrimination for federal contractors will be issued at this time."

As Andrew Harmon of The Advocate reported, the decision was not received well.

"We are extremely disappointed with this decision and will continue to advocate for an executive order from the president," Human Rights Campaign president Joe Solmonese said in a statement. "The unfortunate truth is that hard-working Americans can be fired simply for being gay or transgender. Given the number of employees that would be covered by this executive order, it represents a critical step forward."

Mara Keisling, executive director of the National Center for Transgender Equality, while acknowledging that ENDA remains a legislative necessity, said that "President Obama right now has the power to stop trans employees of federal contractors from getting fired on the job."

In a posting at Huffington Post, Ian Thompson of the ACLU described the administration's decision as "extremely disappointing." Thompson pointed out that "it is legal to fire or refuse to hire someone based on their sexual orientation in 29 states. Those who are transgender can be fired or denied employment solely based on their gender identity in 34 states."

Senator Jeff Merkley of Oregon and Representative Tammy Baldwin of Wisconsin were among a number of elected officials expressing dismay at the decision. The National Council of La Raza, which had argued on behalf of the executive order on behalf of glbtq Hispanics, joined the chorus of groups calling for the President to reconsider.

In response to expressions of disappointment, White House spokesman Shin Inouye said, "The President is dedicated to securing equal rights for LGBT Americans and that is why he has long supported an inclusive Employment Non-Discrimination Act (ENDA), which would prohibit employers across the country from discriminating on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity."

For all President Obama's reiterated support of ENDA, the fact remains that when his party held a large majority in both houses of Congress, he did nothing to expedite ENDA's passage, or even its consideration by Congress. And as long as Republicans control the House of Representatives and more than 40 Senate votes, ENDA is dead on arrival in a polarized Congress.

As Scott Wooledge noted in Daily Kos, when White House Press Secretary Jay Carney tried to spin the administration's position at a press conference, he talked "more about the Employment Non-Discrimination act in eight minutes than the administration has in three years. It's an effort to get the heat off the administration and onto Congress. Carney is shilling that there exists some false choice between executive action and legislative action, which of course has no precedent in history."

"We are encouraged," Wooledge charged, "to believe the administration has finally acquired the magic wand to get congress to bend to its will. And this would be the same congress the administration has built its entire We Can't Wait campaign around the idea it is a hopeless pit of obstructionism?"

Wooledge went on to accuse the administration of playing politics with the issue, and not very good politics at that: "Obama and his people are afraid that if he signs this Rick Warren's Saddleback Church will not vote for him. He is afraid Family Research Council's Tony Perkins will call him the anti-Christ (again). He is afraid Fox News will say he's implementing the radical homosexual agenda (again)."

"They haven't yet figured out that the Saddleback Church, Family Research Council crowd and Fox News viewers aren't voting for the Kenyan, Muslim, socialist radical anyway. They just can't accept they're just not that into Obama."

Wooledge concluded by observing that by the "Obama administration's flawed political math, it's somehow better not to cover 22% of the workforce today by executive order and wait for some magic realignment that everyone knows isn't coming."

Among the activists most disappointed by the administration's decision not to proceed with the executive order was Tico Almeida, founding president of Freedom to Work, an advocacy group that concentrates on workplace hostility and discrimination. Almeida, who attended the meeting called by the White House, denounced the decision as "a political calculation that cannot stand."

In a statement issued the day after the meeting, Almeida said, "I urged senior White House staff yesterday to reconsider their mistake. We will continue to publicly urge them to reconsider for many months to come. White House staffers and lawyers have let politics stand in the way of a basic American value--that a solid day's work deserves a solid day's pay, regardless of the color of your skin, your place of worship, your gender, or who you love. We can't wait for the White House to catch up with this basic democratic value, we can't wait for them to catch up with the prevailing views of the American public, we can't wait for them to do what is right for the American taxpayers who should not have to subsidize discrimination. And now we have the resources, as well as the will, to give the White House some political courage on this issue."

Almeida's mantra of "We Can't Wait!" was not merely a rhetorical flourish, for he also announced that Freedom to Work would be launching a new campaign entitled "We Can't Wait! (ironically named the same as President Obama's campaign highlighting executive initiatives designed to bypass Congressional gridlock) intended to place additional pressure on the administration.

Almeida announced that the We Can't Wait campaign will be supported by a spontaneous $100,000 gift from philanthropist Jonathan Lewis, who provided the seed money for the grassroots organization GetEqual.

Lewis denounced the decision not to issue the executive order. "This isn't a broken promise President Obama can blame on Congress. He has not been able to provide a single valid reason for why he is now refusing to sign the executive order protecting LGBT workers. It has become increasingly clear that this decision is based on cowardice rather than principled leadership."

Almeida appeared on Current TV's Viewpoint with Eliot Spitzer to recount the White House meeting and to explain his disappointment.

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