Then and Now

White House won't comment on a federal contractor nondiscrimination policy, but Obama pledged his support for such a policy in 2008

Despite the refusal of the White House to comment for months on whether the president supports a federal nondiscrimination policy based on sexual orientation or gender identity for federal contractors, then-Sen. Barack Obama told the Houston GLBT Political Caucus more than four years ago that he would support such a policy as president, Metro Weekly has learned.

Obama, as a candidate seeking the Democratic nomination to run for president in 2008, was asked by the Houston GLBT Political Caucus if he would support a “formal written policy of non-discrimination that includes sexual orientation and gender identity or expression … for all Federal contractors.”

Obama’s response – according to the survey, a copy of which was provided exclusively to Metro Weekly on condition of anonymity – was one word: “Yes.”

Obama, in responding to the group’s 2008 presidential candidate questionnaire, also stated that his campaign had a “written non-discrimination policy that includes sexual orientation and gender identity.” He added that “[a]n Obama White House will implement a similar non-discrimination policy.” In it, Obama states that he supported such a policy for all federal employees and, in a separate question, for all federal contractors.

Candidate Obama’s 2008 answers have come to light at the same time Freedom to Work announced that more than 100,000 people have signed the organization’s Change.org petition urging Obama to sign an executive order banning sexual orientation and gender identity discrimination by federal contractors.

The Employment Non-Discrimination Act, pending in Congress, would prohibit sexual orientation and gender identity discrimination by all private employers with 15 or more employees, but it has practically no chance of passage in the 112th Congress due to the Republicans’ control of the House. In the meantime, supporters of employment nondiscrimination protections like Freedom to Work have been asking the president to prohibit such discrimination among federal contractors, who account for more than 20 percent of jobs in the country.

In a statement sent to The Advocate that was published earlier this week, Obama wrote, “I … support an inclusive Employment Non-Discrimination Act.” In the next sentence, he added, “But a lot of work remains, and we cannot wait for Congress to act.” He did not, however, reference the executive order proposal.

Metro Weekly reported in January that several sources outside the administration familiar with the process said that such a proposed federal contractor nondiscrimination executive order that would include sexual orientation and gender identity has been given the okay 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.

The White House has declined numerous opportunities, via email and at White House press briefings, to comment on whether and when Obama would sign such an order.

The Houston GLBT Political Caucus questionnaire, which was signed by Obama on Feb. 25, 2008, was not provided to Metro Weekly by the Houston GLBT Political Caucus. A White House spokesman directed questions about the survey to the Obama campaign. The Obama campaign, after being provided with a copy of the questionnaire early in the afternoon on March 7, promised an on-the-record response by noon today but has not yet done so.

Tico Almeida, the founder and president of Freedom to work told Metro Weekly of the news, ”Candidate Obama made this executive order part of his campaign promises in 2008 because he believes workplace discrimination against LGBT Americans is wrong, and because this executive order is a completely safe political position to take during a presidential election year. Now its four years later, and signing this executive order is still a completely safe political position to take during a presidential election year.”

Of this year’s campaign, he added, ”In fact, I think this may turn out to be the first time in American history that a Democratic presidential candidate uses a pro-gay rights policy as a winning wedge issue against the pro-discrimination candidates like Romney and Santorum.”

Among the other notable comments made by then-Sen. Obama in his responses were those relating to the military and immigration.

Writing that he was a supporter of the then-pending Military Readiness Enhancement Act, he wrote, “As President, I will consult with military leaders and members of Congress to determine the best and most effective way to effect a successful transition to a policy of non-discrimination.”

The nondiscrimination provision was removed from the Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell Repeal Act that became law in December 2010, and the military has adopted no sexual orientation-specific nondiscrimination provision. Servicemembers Legal Defense Network has called on the president to sign an executive order to create such a nondiscrimination policy.

On the immigration front, Obama wrote, “I strongly support equal treatment for LGBT bi-national couples under our immigration laws. … I believe that changes need to be made to improve the Uniting American Families Act so as to clarify the ‘permanent partner’ standard that will be applied to same-sex couples – both to ensure fully equal treatment and to minimize the potential for fraud and abuse of the immigration system.”

As president, the White House stated in a document published in the summer of 2011 that Obama “believes … Americans with partners from other countries should not be faced with a painful choice between staying with their partner or staying in their country.”

In concluding the survey, Obama was asked how he would respond to a question about his sexual orientation or gender identity.

“I am a heterosexual man, married to an extraordinary woman, and blessed with two daughters,” he replied.

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