WASHINGTON — Although President Obama pressed Sunday night for Senate and House action to pass legislation barring employers from discriminating against LGBT workers, one prominent LGBT advocate pushed back, saying Obama's actions don't match his words on this front.
In a blog post at The Huffington Post, Obama wrote, "Congress needs to pass the Employment Non-Discrimination Act, also known as ENDA, which would provide strong federal protections against discrimination, making it explicitly illegal to fire someone because of their sexual orientation or gender identity."
Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid filed cloture on the bill on Thursday evening, setting up a vote on cloture — which will require the support of 60 senators — for after 5 p.m. Monday.
Tico Almeida, the founder and president of Freedom to Work, criticized Obama, telling BuzzFeed, "This blog post is a little late and nowhere near as important as the impact President Obama could have by leading through example and creating a strong federal policy that our tax dollars will not be wasted on anti-LGBT harassment and discrimination."
The policy, an executive order banning federal contractors from discriminating on the basis of sexual orientation or gender identity in their employment decisions, is an area on which Obama said he would take action if elected president. In a 2008 questionnaire to the Houston GLBT Political Caucus, first reported by Metro Weekly, Obama wrote that he would support a federal nondiscrimination policy based on sexual orientation or gender identity for federal contractors. He has not done so, despite repeated pressure from advocates.
"President Obama has provided years of underwhelming leadership in the fight against LGBT workplace discrimination. He should move beyond these mere words and take long overdue action to protect LGBT Americans from harassment and discrimination at the corporations that profit from federal funds," Almeida said in response to Obama's post.
Along with the activist group Get Equal, Almeida has been one of the loudest voices of criticism on the left for the president's decision — first announced in April 2012 and repeated often by White House officials since then — that Obama would not sign the executive order because his preference is to see ENDA passed into law. Unlike the outsider role played by Get Equal, however, Almeida is very much a D.C. insider — having served as the lead counsel on ENDA to Rep. George Miller, whose committee controlled ENDA in the House, from 2007 to 2010. Neither Freedom to Work nor Get Equal were included on the executive committee of the Americans for Workplace Opportunity, a coalition spearheaded by the Human Rights Campaign that launched a $2 million campaign to pass ENDA in the Senate.
"The president's blog post brags that his administration 'prohibited discrimination in housing and hospitals that receive federal funding,' but conveniently ignores that the president has neglected his own written campaign promise to take that same step with federal funding to combat LGBT workplace discrimination," Almeida said. "In less than the time that it took to write this blog post, the president could have signed an executive order to give strong LGBT workplace protections to millions of Americans."
The blog post from Obama also does not mention a 2012 decision from the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission finding that the ban on sex discrimination found in Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 includes a ban on anti-transgender discrimination. The EEOC ruling in Macy v. Holder is not definitive, as only the Supreme Court can provide a definitive answer to the question of the scope of Title VII, but the Department of Justice has since adhered to that ruling in applying discrimination claims brought by a federal employee and the EEOC has done so in cases of private employers. Obama, however, claimed in the blog post that "right now, in 2013, in many states a person can be fired simply for being lesbian, gay, bisexual, or transgender."
Almeida said, "I'm not entirely surprised the President's blog post does not celebrate the historic Macy legal victory in the list of accomplishments during his term given that the White House has prevented Labor Department officials from formally adopting the Macy decision for existing contractor policies banning sex discrimination." The comment echoes a claim Almeida made earlier this year — a claim that neither the White House nor the Labor Department has ever denied or refuted.
Even as to ENDA itself, Almeida said that Obama's post Sunday night comes after too little action prior to this weekend, claiming, "The president remained mostly silent while there were still holdout Democrats that our movement successfully pushed to support ENDA, and then the president weighs in only after 100% of Democrats are on board." This past week, the three last Democratic senators to support ENDA — Sens. Bill Nelson, Mark Pryor, and Joe Manchin — all announced their support for the bill.
A White House spokesman did not respond immediately to a late-night email asking about the criticism.
Chris Geidner is the legal editor for BuzzFeed News and is based in Washington, DC. In 2014, Geidner won the National Lesbian & Gay Journalists Association award for journalist of the year.
Contact Chris Geidner at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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