The President will not in the near future sign an executive order banning federal contractors from discriminating against LGBT employees, the White House said on Wednesday.
“While it is not our usual practice to discuss executive orders that may or may not be under consideration, we do not expect that an executive order on L.G.B.T. nondiscrimination for federal contractors will be issued at this time,” said an administration official who would speak about the controversy only if provided anonymity. “We support legislation that has been introduced and we will continue to work with Congressional sponsors to build support for it.”
An administration spokesman, Shin Inouye, said in an e-mail, “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.”
This would appear a severe blow to LGBT rights groups who were hoping that the administration would sign an executive order, which by all accounts has been signed off on by the Department of Justice, that would prevent federal contractors from discriminating on grounds of sexual orientation and gender identity.
Said the Human Rights Campaign in a statement:
“We are extremely disappointed with this decision and will continue to advocate for an executive order from the president. The unfortunate truth is that hard-working Americans can be fired simply for being gay or transgender.”
Other LGBT groups have gone so far as to potentially label this decision homophobic.
“I don’t know if the White House is politically homophobic, actually homophobic, or just afraid of doing anything that might risk some attention,” Heather Cronk, the managing director of GetEQUAL.
“He’s not going to have hoards of gay folks running over and voting for Romney,” Cronk said, admitting that Obama stands little chance of losing votes to Republicans over the issue.┬á“The problem is that the White House is making a calculation.”
There is precedent for such an executive order given that in 1965 President Johnson established an executive order prohibiting federal contractors from discriminating against employees based on race, color, religion, sex, or national origin.
Earlier this month 72 lawmakers, with the backing of several civil rights groups, sent a letter to President Obama urging him to sign the executive order. In the letter, lawamkers noted several cases of LGBT workplace discrimination that demonstrate why this kind of action is necessary, including a case where a former employee at DynCorp, a military contractor profiting from billions of U.S. taxpayer dollars, reported that he was a victim of sustained anti-gay harassment during his time working for the corporation.
That the Obama administration has suggested that it will defer signing the order and instead conduct a study into whether LGBT protections is necessary is, for that reason and for the fact that President Obama has continually said he supports federal legislation banning anti-LGBT discrimination, curious.
This is especially true given that a White House spokesperson quickly ran off the following to reassure LGBTs of the President’s advocacy: “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. áThe President is committed to lasting and comprehensive change and therefore our goal is passage of ENDA, which is a legislative solution to LGBT employment discrimination — just as the President pressed for legislative repeal of DADT.”
This comment leads me to speculate the following: The mention of “Don’t Ask Don’t Tell” is extremely interesting because the administration refused to sign an executive order ending discrimination in the military on grounds, in part, because it would only be a temporary change, and also that the administration went to lengths to conduct a thorough working study into DADT repeal implementation that ended up convincing several Republicans that the repeal was necessary and safe.
ENDA has continually floundered in Congress because of a lack of Republican support and Democratic ambivalence. Could it be that the President wishes to conduct a workplace discrimination study so as to be able to hold up for Congress extensive and inarguable proof of the discrimination LGBTs face?
But is there any reason, then, not to sign an executive order in the meantime? Based on Obama’s previous statements relating to DADT, there seems to be two key things at play.
One is that the Obama administration might not wish to risk undercutting a later legislative push on ENDA that would give Congress a reason for inaction and that for Obama it is undeniably politically expedient to not rock the boat so close to election time.
Neither of these are going to be seen as particularly good reasons not to sign the order given a pressing need for, in particular, trans protections.
Indeed, the move has not sat well with LGBT groups with a rapidly growing “We Can’t Wait!” campaign now finding its voice. SaidáJonathan Lewis in a press release for the campaign:
“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.”
“Over the past several years the LGBT advocacy groups have jumped through hoops for this administration, conducting extensive research and polling — more than has been done for any similar executive order — and now the only impediment is President Obama.”
“This is nothing short of craven election-year politics, a game Obama told us he would not play.”
Whether President Obama will feel it necessary to explain himself further remains to be seen.