White House Says No Federal Contractor Nondiscrimination Executive Order “At This Time”

President Obama does not plan to sign an executive order at this time banning federal contractors from discriminating on the basis of sexual orientation or gender identity, according to a statement from Human Rights Campaign president Joe Solmonese. A senior administration official confirmed the news to Metro Weekly.

“Earlier today, we were told that the Administration is not ready to move forward with a federal contractor nondiscrimination executive order at this time,” Solmonese said of the meeting first reported by Metro Weekly. “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. Given the number of employees that would be covered by this executive order, it represents a critical step forward.”

The move is a blow to advocates, many of whom had been pushing for action over the past several months. Tico Almeida, the founder of Freedom to Work, had told Metro Weekly repeatedly that he was confident the president would sign such an order — by this June at the latest.

Center for American Progress executive vice president Winnie Stachelberg told Metro Weekly, “Today’s news that the White House will not immediately issue an executive order requiring federal contractors to have sexual orientation and gender identity nondiscrimination policies is disappointing.”

Thumbnail image for Obama 500w.jpgThe White House, which has endorsed the Employment Non-Discrimination Act — a bill to prohibit sexual orientation or gender identity-based workplace discrimination for most private employers — had refused to comment publicly on the executive order proposal.

Today, however, a senior administration official tells Metro Weekly, “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 LGBT non-discrimination for federal contractors will be issued at this time. We support legislation that has been introduced and we will continue to work with congressional sponsors to build support for it.”

Of the White House effort, Stachelberg says, “The White House will instead launch a multipronged effort to better address workplace discrimination against gay and transgender Americans. However, just as Congress should pass ENDA now, the President should now use his executive authority to extend existing nondiscrimination requirements of federal contractors to include sexual orientation and gender identity.”

National Gay and Lesbian Task Force executive director Rea Carey concurred with Stachelberg’s assessment, noting, “While we all continue to work towards federal employment protections through legislation, we know the need is immediate and the president can take action now to protect LGBT workers across the country. Federal contractors receive billions of dollars from federal taxpayers every year and an executive order would extend LGBT-inclusive employment protections to millions of workers.”

Stachelberg added, “A wide range of research by the ACLU, Human Rights Campaign, Center for American Progress, National Center for Transgender Equality, National Gay and Lesbian Task Force, Williams Institute, and others clearly demonstrates that gay and transgender people face high rates of discrimination and policies that create fair workplaces are good for business. These types of policies are supported by nearly 75 percent of Americans, many of the nation’s leading and largest corporations, and nearly two-thirds of all small business owners, based on a CAP survey from 2011.”

Metro Weekly has reported in March that, when a candidate for president in 2008, then-Sen. Barack Obama said he would support a sexual orientation and gender identity nondiscrimination policy for federal contractors if elected president.

Several sources outside the administration familiar with the process told Metro Weekly in January 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.

Today — in response to questions about the National Organization for Marriage’s endorsement of former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney (R) for president — an Obama campaign spokeswoman said that President Obama has “called for repeal of the so-called ‘Defense of Marriage Act’ and has taken steps to weaken this discriminatory law until the time it can be repealed legislatively.”

The White House, however, appears to be unwilling to take steps, such as the proposed executive order, at this time to strengthen workplace protections before ENDA can be passed legislatively. White House spokesman Shin Inouye, in response to a request from Metro Weekly, wrote, “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.

He added: “The 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.”

The Task Force’s Carey, however, countered: “LGBT people and their families should not continue to be forced to live in fear of losing their livelihoods, their homes, their ability to provide for their families because an employer discriminates. And employers who do discriminate certainly should not be rewarded with taxpayer-funded government contracts.”

ACLU legislative representative Ian Thompson said, “There is a well-established record documenting employment discrimination against LGBT Americans based on their sexual orientation or gender identity. The ACLU continues to view this executive order as the single most important step President Obama could take this year to eradicate LGBT discrimination from our country’s workplaces. It is extremely disappointing that the administration has apparently decided to delay doing so.”

Solmonese added: “Ten years of HRC’s Corporate Equality Index, as well as the research of our partner organizations to include the Center for American Progress and the Williams Institute, demonstrate that there is ample rationale for this kind of order. No similar executive order has ever had this kind of extensive research or factual basis established. While we believe that further study is unnecessary, we will continue to engage with the Administration to ensure that the case is made even stronger for workplace protections.”

[CORRECTION: An earlier version of this story stated that White House officials said no executive order would be signed prior to Election Day. No specific timing was discussed by White House officials, although multiple attendees tell Metro Weekly that they were left with no doubt that the White House's decision not to proceed with such an order at this time would last through the election.]

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