President Barack Obama still has yet to fulfill his 2008 promise of using an executive order to protect the LGBT employees of all federal contractors from discrimination when he failed to sign an executive order to protect the LGBT community in the workplace.
On Tuesday, Obama was to sign two executive actions to eliminate sex discrimination in federal contracting.
The Employment Non-Discrimination Act (ENDA) would prohibit discrimination against gender orientation or gender identity in the workplace. It passed the Senate in November 2013 and is waiting at the House.
He was also to sign an executive order which would prohibit discrimination against gender orientation or gender identity in federal contracting.
“President Obama will take a tremendous step today by signing executive orders reducing discrimination in federal contracting,” President of the Human Rights Campaign (HRC), Chad Griffin, said yesterday. “Issuing these executive orders helps build momentum for Congress on paycheck fairness legislation…By the stroke of his pen, the President can immediately protect over 16 million workers and pressure Congress to pass ENDA. There is simply no reason for President Obama to wait one second longer.”
Though many businesses have already put these policies into practice, not all have ensured LGBT workplace equality.
On Thursday, White House Press Secretary Jay Carney told the Washington Blade that the executive order would be “redundant” if ENDA gets passed, even though they pointed out that the executive order extends protection to those ENDA does not.
The executive order alone would protect and estimated 11 to 16 million employees of federal contractors that are already protected by their companies, according to the Blade. ENDA would cover public and private employers, not just contractors, however, there are two major reasons ENDA wouldn’t work by itself.
ENDA would not cover small businesses. It currently defines “employer” as a business with “15 or more employees for each working day in each of 20 more calendar weeks in the current or preceding calendar year.” Any business that provides $10,000 of service to the federal government would have to follow the ENDA expectations regardless of employee numbers, but this leaves out many small businesses.
The way ENDA is written also exempts religious organizations that would allow for these places to discriminate against the LGBT community. Discrimination on the basis of religion is still legal according to Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 against gender identity and sexual orientation, meaning religious organizations and schools can still deny employment based solely on someone’s LGBT identity.
After receiving so much backlash for Carney’s statement, when asked if signing the both executive order and ENDA would be redundant, the White House Principal Deputy Press Secretary John Earnest avoided the question but did say the President fully supports the legislation.
“The fact of the matter is our position on legislation that would codify into the law that individuals can’t be discriminated against at work just because of who they love – we strongly support that legislation,” Earnest said. “We urge Congress to pass that legislation, and that is what our position is.”
However, when it came down to putting his pen into action, Obama neglected to use it for LGBT issues at least. Fortunately, the President signed two executive orders ensuring equal pay for women, but he failed to sign the executive order for LGBT equality in the workplace.
The initiatives have been stalled because the White House believes Congress should take over this issue instead of the President. Interestingly, Obama continues to deal with matters he insists Congress should be addressing, like fair pay. He urged Congress to act on pay equality and yet he raised minimum wage for federal contractors. Similarly, he prevented Dream-Act eligible students from being deported in June 2012 with his executive power.
On March 22, 2014, Vice President Biden took the podium at an HRC Gala in Los Angeles to speak about ENDA. “My grandkids, my children, and their kids are going to be shocked – it shocks the conscience that at this very moment in American history, in some states, an employer can fire you just because of who you are or who you love. It’s close to barbaric.”
He added, “The country has moved on. The American people have moved on. It’s time for their Congress to move on and pass ENDA, pass ENDA now – not tomorrow, now. If you think about this, it’s outrageous we’re even debating this sucker. I really mean it. It’s almost beyond belief that today in 2014, I could say to you, because you’re an employee in so many states, you’re fired because of who you love? I mean think about that. It is bizarre.”
House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) said there is “no way” ENDA will be figured out this year.
The fight for LGBT equality will continue.