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195 Lawmakers, All Dems, Sign Letter Urging Obama to Protect LGBT Workers in Executive Order

A group of 195 U.S. lawmakers (148 House members and 47 Senators) has sent a letter to President Obama urging him to issue and executive order banning federal contractors from engaging in employment discrimination against LGBT Americans.

HoyerThe letter reads:

We are writing to urge you to fulfill the promise in your State of the Union address to make this a “year of action” and build upon the momentum of 2013 by signing an executive order banning federal contractors from engaging in employment discrimination against lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) Americans. As you have said before, “now is the time to end this kind of discrimination, not enable it.”

As we continue to work towards final passage of the Employment Non-Discrimination Act (ENDA) with strong bipartisan support, we urge you to take action now to protect millions of workers across the country from the threat of discrimination simply because of who they are or who they love. We are committed to doing all that we can in Congress to get ENDA to your desk this year; however, there is no reason you cannot immediately act by taking this important step. This executive order would provide LGBT people with another avenue in the federal government they could turn to if they were the victim of employment discrimination by a federal contractor. When combined with ENDA, these non-discrimination protections would parallel those that have been in place for decades on the basis of race, sex and religion.

An executive order covering LGBT employees would be in line with a bipartisan, decades-long commitment to eradicating taxpayer-funded discrimination in the workplace. In 1941, President Roosevelt prohibited discrimination in defense contracts on the bases of race, creed, color, or national origin. In subsequent executive orders, Presidents Roosevelt, Truman, Eisenhower, Kennedy, and Johnson expanded these protections to ensure that taxpayer dollars are not used to discriminate.

In addition, most of the largest government contractors – companies like Boeing, Raytheon, and Lockheed Martin – have LGBT non-discrimination policies in place. They adopted them because business leaders recognize that discrimination is bad for the bottom line.

Finally, time is of the essence. Even with an executive order in place, full implementation of these protections will require regulations to be developed and finalized, a process that will take many months, if not longer, to fully put in place.

Issuing an executive order prohibiting discrimination against LGBT workers in federal contracts would build on the significant progress for LGBT rights made during your time as President and would further your legacy as a champion for LGBT equality. We urge you to act now to prevent irrational, taxpayer-funded workplace discrimination against LGBT Americans.

For House Minority Whip Steny Hoyer (D-MD, pictured) and Assistant Minority Leader Jim Clyburn (D-SC), it's the first time signing such a letter. Pelosi and Reid did not sign, noting they do not sign group letters.

Rep. Debbie Wasserman-Schultz did not sign the letter. Last week it was reported that she had discouraged House members from signing it, a charge which her spokesperson called a "bald-faced lie."

The Washington Blade adds:

Not a single Republican signed the letter. Not one of the 10 Republicans who voted for the Employment Non-Discrimination Act in the Senate late last year any of the six GOP co-sponsors of ENDA in the House penned their name to the missive.

Said Ian Thompson, the ACLU's legislative representative, who helped gather signatures for the letter:

“This letter, and the breadth of support for it, makes clear what we have long argued: we need both ENDA and a non-discrimination executive order for federal contractors. This executive order represents the most important step President Obama can take on his own during the remainder of his term in office to eradicate LGBT discrimination from workplaces in America. There is no reason for further delay.”

Read the letter below:

LGBT Executive Order Letter 3/18/14

Activist Claims DNC Chair Discouraged Dems from Urging Obama to Issue 'ENDA' Executive Order

A prominent activist is accusing DNC Chair Debbie Wasserman Schultz (D-FL, pictured) of discouraging Democratic lawmakers from signing a letter asking President Obama to issue an executive order that would ban workplace discrimination against LGBT people, the Washington Blade reports.

Wasserman-schultzHouse Speaker John Boehner has repeatedly said he will not allow a vote on the Employment Non-Discrimination Act (ENDA) which passed the Senate for the first time this year, and activists are growing impatient.

Said Paul Yandura, political director for gay philanthropist Jonathan Lewis, to the Blade:

"I was told personally by two members that she was tamping down on public calls for the president to make good on his promise — this was last year when the issue was really getting hot. She is most likely doing the same still," adding, "I think she doesn’t want to embarrass the president, and still doesn’t want to embarrass the president, because it is an embarrassment that he still hasn’t done it. We’re now coming down to the end of the second term, and if they don’t get moving on it, it’ll never even get implemented."

Wasserman Schultz's spokesperwon Mara Sloan called Yandura's assertions a "bald-faced lie," adding:

"The congresswoman believes the most effective way to ensure equal rights for LGBT Americans in the workplace is through passing comprehensive non-discrimination legislation. The congresswoman regularly speaks to the administration about issues important to the LGBT community, and will continue to be a fierce advocate for full equality."

Yandura said his claims are based on things he heard while collecting signatures for a 2013 letter urging Obama to issue the order.

More at the Blade....


SingerIn related news, a group of wealthy Republicans and former GOP lawmakers are joining an HRC-led campaign to push the House to take a vote on ENDA, USA Today reports:

"America is a place where the freedom to be who you are shouldn't be a barrier to your ability to get a job and provide for your family," said Paul Singer (pictured), a billionaire hedge fund founder and big Republican donor. Singer is putting $375,000 toward the push for passage of the Employment Non-Discrimination Act. "In the workplace, employees should be judged on their merit and hard work and not on aspects that are irrelevant to their performance."

Fellow billionaire and GOP donor Seth Klarman also donated $375,000 to the campaign spearheaded by the Human Rights Campaign, the nation's largest gay rights lobby. HRC is putting up an additional $1.3 million in the effort to get 218 House lawmakers — a majority of the chamber — on record in support of ENDA.

The campaign plans to go after 48 persuadable House Republicans and gain their support for the bill:

If the group can get 218 lawmakers on public record in support of the legislation, they say House GOP leaders, including Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, may have to rethink their decision not to vote this year.

Boehner told members of the LGBT caucus at an historic first meeting earlier this year that ENDA had no chances of seeing a vote in 2014.

Labor Sec'y Perez Says an 'ENDA' Executive Order Continues to Be Under Consideration: VIDEO


In a surprise appearance in front of the White House Press Corps. yesterday, Labor Secretary Thomas Perez was asked by Chris Johnson at the Washington Blade if an executive order protecting LGBT workers from discrimination and gender identity is something his department could implement.

Said Perez:

Well, I can’t get into what-ifs. I’m certainly aware of the executive order that was proposed that you’re talking about. And the President takes a backseat to no one in his commitment for equal access to opportunity for people regardless of race, religion, sexual orientation or gender identity. And it’s an issue that we continue to contemplate and work on.

Later, White House Press Secretary insisted that the EO was a hypothetical but was corrected by a Reuters reporter in light of Perez's comments that no, it's clearly not a hypothetical.

Carney replied:

I think broadly speaking, the administration looks at all opportunities to advance an agenda that expands opportunity, that levels the playing field, that sustains equal opportunity for all that is part of the President’s vision. That’s as a broad matter. On specific — would the President do this executive action or that executive action, I mean, that list could be endless, and I don’t have any update for you on that kind of proposition.

Watch the exchanges, AFTER THE JUMP...

Continue reading "Labor Sec'y Perez Says an 'ENDA' Executive Order Continues to Be Under Consideration: VIDEO" »

WH Press Secretary Jay Carney Grilled on ENDA, Executive Order: VIDEO


Chris Johnson at the Washington Blade grilled White House Press Secretary Jay Carney yesterday on the Employment Non-Discrimination Act (ENDA) and asked, given House Speaker John Boehner's remarks this week that there is "no way" it's coming up this session, if the President planned to sign an executive order.

Said Carney:

"Well, I would simply say that that is the wrong approach, and the president strongly supports the Employment Non-Discrimination Act. He believes strongly and knows that it’s the right thing to do. I would suggest that there have been occasions when leaders in the House have declared something won’t happen, and it happens anyway. And we certainly hope that’s the case here."

Pressed, Carney would not say whether the President considers protections for LGBT people in the workplace a campaign promise despite Obama's indication that it was in a 2007 questionnaire.


UPDATE: Carney tweeted a clarification of his "wrong approach" remarks:

"Think you misunderstood. I was referring to the Speaker saying ENDA wouldn't get done this year as '"the wrong approach.'"

Continue reading "WH Press Secretary Jay Carney Grilled on ENDA, Executive Order: VIDEO" »

Boehner Tells LGBT Caucus There's 'No Way' ENDA Will Get a Vote in 2014

House Speaker John Boehner told members of the LGBT Equality Caucus last week at a historic first meeting that the Employment Non-Discrimination act had no chances of seeing a vote in 2014, the Washington Blade reports.

BoehnerThe information was relayed to the Blade through Rep. Mark Takano (D-CA):

“A number of us did meet with, actually the caucus met with Speaker Boehner,” Takano said. “He said no way was it going to get done in this session.”

Calling the discussion between Boehner and the lawmakers “a historic sort of meeting,” Takano later clarified he was referring to the LGBT Equality Caucus, a 113-member group of lawmakers committed to advancing LGBT rights, and said the meeting took place “a few days ago” or last week.

A “session” of Congress is equivalent to one of the two years in which a particular Congress meets before a new Congress is seated, so Takano’s account of the meeting indicates ENDA won’t see a House vote in 2014.

Details on exactly who attended the meeting or its exact date were not disclosed.

LGBT advocates had been pushing for a mention of the legislation from President Obama in his State of the Union address but that did not happen.

Meanwhile, the White House says that despite the lack of a mention ENDA is still a priority, MetroWeekly reports:

Speaking to reporters aboard Air Force One en route to an event in Pittsburgh, White House press secretary Jay Carney said Obama's position on LGBT-rights is "crystal clear."

"When it comes to the Employment Non-discrimination Act, he is fiercely supportive of that effort, enormously gratified by the fact the Senate took action and very hopeful that the House will follow suit. Because as I've said many times, reflecting his opinion, members of the House who block this are being left at the station as the train moves forward on what would obviously be an America where equal rights are extended to all Americans," Carney said. "So I think his record on LGBT rights is crystal-clear, his position is crystal-clear, and he continues to press Congress to take action on ENDA."

The other option would be to issue an executive order, which the President appears to be reluctant to do.

Rep. Michael Grimm Becomes Sixth House Republican to Sign on as Co-Sponsor of ENDA

Rep. Michael Grimm (R-NY) who represents Staten Island and parts of Brooklyn, has become the sixth House Republican to co-sponor the Employment Non-Discrimination Act, The Washington Blade reports:

Mike grimmRep. Jared Polis (D-Colo.), who’s gay and lead sponsor of ENDA, commended Grimm for supporting the bill, which would bar employers from discriminating against or firing workers based on their sexual orientation or gender identity.

“I am happy to welcome Rep. Grimm as the 200th cosponsor of the bipartisan Employment Non-Discrimination Act,” Polis said. “This is common sense legislation that is supported by a majority of Americans and was passed overwhelmingly by the United States Senate. I look forward to working with Rep. Grimm and all of the co-sponsors on both sides of the aisle to pass this bill and protect all Americans from discrimination in the work place.”

Grimm’s office didn’t immediately respond to the Blade’s request to comment on the New York Republican’s decision to sign on as an ENDA supporter. 

Legislative director for Freedom to Work Christian Berle praised Grimm’s decision, saying:

“We applaud Congressman Grimm for joining the growing number of Republicans supporting LGBT workplace protections, Freedom to Work along with Log Cabin Republicans have been lobbying broadly within the House GOP Conference and we hope to build momentum with more ENDA supporters in the weeks and months to come,” Berle said.

Grimm joins five other Republican co-sponsors: Reps. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R-Fla.), Richard Hanna (R-N.Y.), Charles Dent (R-Pa.), Jon Runyan (R-N.J.) and Chris Gibson (R-N.Y.). Counting Polis as lead sponsor, the bill is still 17 votes short of passage in the House.

Even as the votes begin lining up, however, House Speaker John Boehner has remained steadfast in his opposition to even bringing the legislation up for a vote


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