Seeking Order

Advocates see movement on federal action to ban contractors from anti-LGBT discrimination, but thus far the White House is silent

Although the White House will not confirm the claim, several sources outside the administration familiar with the process tell Metro Weekly that a proposed expansion of the federal contractor nondiscrimination executive order to include sexual orientation and gender identity has been given the OK by both the Labor Department, which oversees federal contract compliance, and the Justice Department and that the executive order proposal is at the White House.

More than one of these sources add, however, that there is not a formal approval process for the executive order proposal — which would expand Executive Order 11246 and need to be signed by President Obama — and that information continues to flow between and among all parties, both in and out of the government.

President Barack Obama

President Barack Obama

Under the executive order as it exists today, the Department of Labor’s Office of Federal Contract Compliance Programs ensures that all federal contractors doing more than $10,000 in government contract work in a year comply with the executive order’s equal employment opportunity policy. The current order prohibits discrimination based on race, color, religion, sex or national origin. Advocates have been pressing the administration to expand the order to include sexual orientation and gender identity.

Asked on Jan. 30 to confirm the status of the progress of the proposed expansion of the executive order toward being signed by the president, White House press secretary Jay Carney told Metro Weekly he could not do so but said that he would ”look into it.” No one from the White House has since followed up with Metro Weekly, despite multiple attempts to seek further information from the White House on the matter. Neither Justice nor Labor department spokespeople responded to requests for comment on whether their respective departments have reviewed the proposed executive order.

Winnie Stachelberg, Center for American Progress executive vice president for external affairs and one of the people who advocates say has been at the forefront of the advocacy efforts, told Metro Weekly on Jan. 31, ”There have been conversations among a number of people in the administration, both the agencies and the White House, about this issue.”

As for when those conversations might lead to action, National Center for Transgender Equality executive director Mara Keisling said, ”I’m not going to guess about timing, but I am extremely optimistic that it is going to happen, sooner or later. It’s a common-sense policy. It’s a common-sense civil rights marker. We have a president who understands the discrimination that LGBT people are facing … and I’m confident this is going to happen. It’s vitally important.”

Asked about the upcoming election, however, she said, ”It’s really, really important to us that it happen this year,” noting that, regardless of who would take over if Obama loses re-election, ”We’d hate to start over. You’d have to do the education, provide the reports.”

She added, of a potential Republican administration, ”Would another administration be as reasonable? I doubt it.”

Tico Almeida, the lead counsel in the House of Representatives working on the Employment Non-Discrimination Act (ENDA) from 2007 to 2010, started a new organization, Freedom to Work, to focus exclusively on LGBT employment discrimination issues. He has been one of the loudest voices pushing for what he often has called the ”ENDA executive order” in recent months — and is optimistic that it will happen.

Talking with Metro Weekly, he said, ”I predict the president will sign the ENDA executive order during the next few months or, maybe, he will save it for pride month in June.”

The Human Rights Campaign’s vice president for communications, Fred Sainz, put no such timeline on the process when speaking with Metro Weekly.

”We will continue to make our case to the White House that this is something that should be done,” Sainz said. ”That is a decision that is up to them, but I can assure you that, from the perspective of being an advocate, we are doing everything possible to make sure that they are in command of the information that they need.”

He added, ”As part of its blueprint for positive change, from before this administration even began, HRC has always considered an executive order to be an imperative. Especially now with a Republican Congress, we view it to be a substantial move forward.”

What’s more, multiple sources tell Metro Weekly that President Obama has personally been asked about the proposal to expand Executive Order 11246, which would be similar to the expansion that President Bill Clinton made by adding ”sexual orientation” to Executive Order 11478, which prohibits discrimination in the federal workforce, in May 1998.

Of the impact of the expansion, Almeida and others note that it would not be a decision outside of mainstream opinion. Noting that nearly 80 percent of Americans, including a majority of Republicans, support ENDA, Almeida also pointed to an October 2011 report by the Williams Institute finding that the five federal contractors with the largest annual dollar amount in contracts — Lockheed Martin, Boeing, Northrop Grumman, Raytheon and General Dynamics — already have nondiscrimination policies that cover both sexual orientation and gender identity.

At the same time, American Civil Liberties Union legislative representative Ian Thompson noted the historic nature of the proposal, ”For the first time in U.S. history, there would be employees in every state in the private sector who have employment protections based on sexual orientation and gender identity.”

Of that time, Almeida said, ”[I]t will be a historic accomplishment that helps all Americans rest assured that our taxpayer funds are not being squandered to subsidize prejudice and harassment. This president has a fantastic record on LGBT equal rights, and that’s why I am optimistic that he will sign this ‘no-brainer’ of a policy change.”

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