Metro Weekly

Hope and an Executive Order

Despite puzzling inaction, advocates hold out optimism for Obama banning discrimination among federal contractors

It is a sentiment echoed by Jeff Krehely, vice president of LGBT research at the Center for American Progress, who says Obama’s leadership in the form of an executive order would raise the visibility of the problem of LGBT workplace discrimination.

”That would be hugely helpful to ENDA efforts on the Hill, which the White House has made clear it supports,” Krehely wrote in an email to Metro Weekly. ”Although we know the rates of anti-LGBT discrimination are high, we also know that many Americans already think federal laws exist to prevent and crack down on this type of discrimination.”

Advocates remain confident that the most LGBT-friendly president in American history will take the most obvious next step to advance equality, but they have faced disappointment before.

In April, advocates were informed that Obama did not plan to sign the executive at that time in what was a major blow to many who had been pressuring the White House for months. At the time, advocates said they expected inaction to last until Election Day. But now, with Obama entering his second term, pressure is mounting for action.

Several groups have publicly urged action on the executive order since Obama’s re-election, including the Human Rights Campaign, Freedom to Work, the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force and the National Center for Transgender Equality.

According to HRC spokesman Michael Cole-Schwartz, lobbying efforts continue on the executive order as well as on ENDA.

”We continue to press the White House and make clear to them that a federal contractor executive order is a priority of ours and of the community’s,” said Cole-Schwartz. ”The political reality is that there is not an immediate clear path for ENDA’s passage and while we continue to work on that, the White House should move forward with an executive order.”

Representatives from various organizations say they hope to see ENDA marked up in the Senate, where Democrats hold the majority, and possibly make it to the floor of the chamber for a vote.

The faces leading the charge on ENDA have changed in recent years. Before his death in 2009, Ted Kennedy was the champion of ENDA in the Senate and Barney Frank, who will retire at the end of this term, led the fight in the House – both Massachusetts Democrats. Now, Sen. Jeff Merkley (D-Ore.) and out Rep. Jared Polis (D-Colo.) have assumed those roles.

Advocates seem confident there will be real movement on ENDA, at least in the Senate, for the first time in years. Earlier this month, Senate Democratic leadership announced the appointment of Sen. Tammy Baldwin (D-Wis.), the chamber’s first out member, to the committee on Health, Education, Labor & Pensions, which has primary jurisdiction over ENDA. According to Almeida, Baldwin’s presence on the committee could be critical.

”Republican Senators on the HELP Committee are so uncomfortable in openly opposing ENDA that not a single one showed up to the hearing on the bill earlier this year to state their opposition. It will be even tougher for some of those Republican Senators to oppose ENDA when they have to look Senator Baldwin in the eyes while voting against giving LGBT Americans a fair shot to hold a job and build a career,” Almeida said in an email to Metro Weekly, arguing that Baldwin’s voice has a ”real shot to persuade some undecided Senators.”

The immediate focus, however, remains on the executive order. According to a spokesman for Polis’s office, the congressman continues to push the White House for the executive order and hopes to see Congress act on ENDA in the coming year.

”Looking at congressional action, we would really like to see ENDA marked up in the Senate, and some attention drawn to the issue and the bill through an executive order could move that process forward,” said Cole-Schwartz.

With the administration engaged in ”fiscal cliff” budget negotiations and attention unexpectedly focused on gun control in the wake of the elementary school shooting in Newtown, Conn., advocates say they understand the many issues before the president, but say that these key issues to the LGBT community will find their way to his desk.

”I think right now the President and the White House are rightly focused on the fiscal showdown. A bad outcome on this front could harm LGBT Americans and undo progress on many issues, so LGBT advocates do have a dog in that fight,” said Krehely, adding, ”At the same time, workplace discrimination has a terrible impact on LGBT people, and it’s ridiculous that in 2012 it still hasn’t been outlawed. The Administration clearly knows this – their track record on furthering equality for LGBT federal workers proves it – so right now I’m optimistic that this issue will find its way onto the President’s crowded plate.”

Justin Snow is Metro Weekly's former political editor and White House correspondent. Follow him on Twitter @JustinCSnow.