GetEQUAL LGBT activists have been pressuring President Obama to sign an executive order extending non-discrimination for LGBT workers employed by federal contracts, while hoping Obama will call on Congress tonight to adopt ENDA
On Sunday and the eve of President Obama’s State of the Union address to Congress, GetEQUAL activists once again returned to direct action pressure tactics in pressing the White House to enact a federal executive order by extending workplace anti-discrimination protection to LGBT workers on federal contracts, and by staging “ENDA Executive Order” actions across the street from the White House, joining with the Maryland Light Brigade (see photograph above).
GetEQUAL ‘s direct action is always intended to bring attention to unjust situations confronting the LGBT community and in this instance, to pressure President Obama to keep his promise made during the 2008 campaign that he would sign an Executive Order extending job protection to LGBT workers on federal contracts. And why specifically for federal contracts? Because government funded federal contracts employs nearly a quarter of American workers and constitutes about 20 percent of the US annual GDP–a sizable chunk of the American economy.
This is nothing to sneeze at because LGBT workers in America have no federal protection from discrimination (except for those workers in federal agencies that have been extended protection by an executive order).
Indeed, there is a huge undefended workplace without any legal redress in most of America if you are fired for being lesbian, gay or bi-sexual or transgender (see Center for American Progress report for a comprehensive overview).
Negotiating the workplace discrimination for LGBT Americans is a daily mine field, fraught with justifiable fear. And yet, Congress has failed to muster the votes to adopt the Employment Non-Discrimination Act, although it has been introduced in every Congress since 1994 and has sizable public support for such a measure.
During the months leading up to President Barack Obama’s re-election last November, America’s LGBT groups united around the issue, pressing the President to take action and sign the executive order. But the White House and the Obama re-election campaign pushed back (even though the campaign sought sizable amounts of cash from the gay community) making the point repeatedly that the President would not sign such an executive order before the election.
In recent days, there has been a flurry of news stories emanating from White House statements which have included a statement issued by White House spokesman Shin Inouye who told The Washington Blade on Sunday “…that we do not expect that an executive order on LGBT non-discrimination for federal contractors will be issued at this time. We support ENDA and we will continue to work to build support for it.” However, in a Washington Post story, also appearing on Sunday, cited unnamed White House sources who said that the President maybe reconsidering his earlier decision not to issue the executive order, if Congress fails to pass ENDA, a more comprehensive set of workplace protections.
With “Don’t Ask Don’t Tell” repealed and in an ongoing implementation process and the Defense of Marriage Act before the U.S. Supreme Court for review next month, the only other major LGBT legal barrier that remains, is the passage of ENDA by Congress.
A serious commitment to passing ENDA legislation is not evident anywhere–not in the White House, or in the Congress and not even evident among leading organizations within our own community.
In this endeavor, all roads lead to the Human Rights Campaign, which controls the federal legislative agenda on LGBT issues, and it also appears to be satisfied with the status quo: the White House says they are building support for the measure with no evidence to substantiate this repeated mantra; no Congressional hearings have been held in a number of years; no public education efforts have been launched in using compelling stories of those who have suffered job discrimination; and no serious lobbying efforts have been launched to schedule a vote in the Senate, which has a decent chance to win a whipped vote and create a public record of accountability.
In reviewing the workplace issue landing page of the Human Rights Campaign website, information about the ENDA measure is buried and requires two additional clicks to access it. Clearly, ENDA does not have a visible priority at HRC either.
Without a serious campaign on workplace discrimination, the stories of workplace injustice that exists in the LGBT community remains invisible, unknown and without legal redress, as long as the status quo remains the political sine quo non of the day. What is the Human Rights Campaign waiting for to work a vote in the Senate and bring the stories of LGBT American workers to Capitol Hill? Are they waiting for Gallup polls to rise to 75 percent support for workplace protections for LGBT persons?
Indeed, a public education campaign is sorely needed based upon the 2011 Center for American Progress polling data on the issue revealed that 9 of 10 people think there’s already a federal law barring LGBT discrimination.
Complacency and politics as usual is an approach that GetEQUAL rejects outright. Indeed, we embrace the Obama expression of the “urgency of now” on pushing for passage of a federal workplace anti-discrimination measure. It is urgent to address this unacceptable dark reality of so many of our sisters and brothers. They live in fear and many are forced to remain in the closet or mislead people about who they truly are–it is a living hell and it is unacceptable.
As Martin Luther King Jr. wrote in his famous Letter from the Birmingham Jail: ”We must use time creatively, in the knowledge that the time is always ripe to do right.
This is the right time to push and pressure President Obama relentlessly to sign an ENDA Executive Order. This the right time to push for Congressional hearings and votes on ENDA in the Senate and shame the House into action. GetEQUAL has forcefully acted to bring LGBT workplace discrimination to the attention of President Obama and we will continue to demand action from our government, elected officials and of organizations in our community. Join us and become a partner in this righteous endeavor to demand and achieve full equality for LGBT Americans and their families under federal law in all civil matters.
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