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President Obama won’t sign a nondiscrimination executive order


By Scottie Thomaston

Yesterday, the news broke from the White House that the president refuses to sign an executive order that would prevent workers contracting with the federal government from discriminating on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity. Everyone seemed hopeful when it was announced yesterday morning that the White House convened a meeting with organizations closely associated with advocating for the executive order, but shortly after that announcement, the meeting’s attendees broke the news.

This had been one of the president’s longstanding campaign promises, back in 2008 he said he would implement a federal contractor executive order to protect LGBT people. The campaign said they supported a nondiscrimination executive order for all federal employees and federal contractors:

Obama, in responding to the group’s 2008 presidential candidate questionnaire, also stated that his campaign had a “written non-discrimination policy that includes sexual orientation and gender identity.” He added that “[a]n Obama White House will implement a similar non-discrimination policy.” In it, Obama states that he supported such a policy for all federal employees and, in a separate question, for all federal contractors.

As the New York Times notes, this is a change from his so-called “we can’t wait” campaign, which was designed in part to mitigate the negative effects of non-passage of certain necessary legislation due to Republican intransigence. And given the pressing need for antidiscrimination protections for LGBT people, since anywhere from 15 to 43 percent of gay people and 90 percent of transgender people report being discriminated against or harassed at their workplace, one would think a step toward showing the LGBT community that we’re headed in a direction where in the future we won’t face so much hatred where we work or are attempting to work might be a step the administration would consider taking.

In defense of his position on this issue, the White House notes the president’s support for ENDA legislation:

White House spokesman Shin Inouye, in response to a request from Metro Weekly, wrote, “The President is dedicated to securing equal rights for LGBT Americans and that is why he has long supported an inclusive Employment Non-Discrimination Act (ENDA), which would prohibit employers across the country from discriminating on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity.

He added: “The President is committed to lasting and comprehensive change and therefore our goal is passage of ENDA, which is a legislative solution to LGBT employment discrimination — just as the President pressed for legislative repeal of DADT.”

The Employment Non-Discrimination Act, of course, is not going to pass the Republican-controlled House. It is unclear even how many House or Senate Democrats would be on board with passage of this legislation. An executive order wouldn’t need to pass a majority of the House and get 60 votes in the Senate, it just needs one person’s signature. It doesn’t seem responsive to the current demands of our time to tell advocates that a piece of future legislation is supported and would be signed if it made it to the president’s desk. And while the order would not be quite as sweeping as the legislation, it would undoubtedly be an improvement over what people who are LGBT are facing in this country today. It would be a pragmatic step, a way to make a mark on antidiscrimination policy.

And with such a broad coalition of supporters – from progressive advocacy organizations to unions to LGBT organizations and non-LGBT organizations for racial minorities – one would think that politically this might not work out so well for the administration. Recently, 72 lawmakers had also pushed for the order.

This would have been a great step, including LGBT people in the campaign to get much needed administrative orders passed to change our living circumstances for the better, and showing that we can’t wait either.

UPDATE 1 (Scottie Thomaston): Today at the White House press briefing, Jay Carney was bombarded with eight minutes of tough questions about the executive order. Carney claims that they have a legislative strategy for ENDA that’s similar to the one they had for DADT.


  • 1. Sagesse  |  April 12, 2012 at 11:09 am


  • 2. MikeM  |  April 12, 2012 at 11:12 am

    As much as I would like to see an executive order they have one major flaw. Anything one President puts in place with his pen, the next one can remove just as easily. ENDA needs passage. The only way to do that is to make sure everyone votes for Reps, and Senators who support the measure. Making sure the President get re-elected wouldn't hurt either.

  • 3. Scottie Thomaston  |  April 12, 2012 at 11:17 am

    Bush didn't get rid of Clinton's EO from 1998 that was similar to this one, so there is precedent. He had eight years to do that. And I really couldn't see the next president repealing an EO for antidiscrimination protections for federal contractors, especially since big business is not opposed to the order.

  • 4. Richard Lyon  |  April 12, 2012 at 11:20 am

    Executive orders are not a permanent solution but they do make a powerful political statement. They are much more substantial than promises made on the stump.

  • 5. Prof. Donald Gaudard  |  April 13, 2012 at 6:37 am

    If he were to sign the EO, over 16 million LGBT people would be protected from being fired simply because of the sexual orientation. Isn't a temporary solution that protects 16 million of us better than waiting for Congressional action. Apparently President Obama has forgotten that the House of Representatives is controlled by the Republicans. Perhaps someone should remind him.

  • 6. Richard Lyon  |  April 12, 2012 at 11:19 am

    This does not bode well for his evolution on marriage equality.

  • 7. Scottie Thomaston  |  April 12, 2012 at 11:23 am

    There was a discussion going on that suggested the administration might need to pick one – an announcement for marriage or this EO – and some people think this clears the way for the announcement. But I'm not sure I could see that. This was a minimal, pragmatic step that would have helped a subsection of the LGBT community and set in motion future antidiscrimination protection measures, and he didn't go for it. I'm not sure he'll be terribly invested in a complete shift on national policy for the office of the president of the United States. (Not that it wouldn't be great if he did make the announcement.)

  • 8. Richard Lyon  |  April 12, 2012 at 11:28 am

    If he were planning to do the statement on marriage equality, it would seem to make better campaign sense to do that first and then say that's all you get until I get reelected.

  • 9. Bob  |  April 12, 2012 at 11:59 am


  • 10. Deeelaaach  |  April 12, 2012 at 12:26 pm

    What is the likelihood of passage of ENDA with an executive order in place vs. without one? Yes, I know, we'd need a Democratic controlled House and Senate and a Democratic president to even consider passage with or without ENDA in place. But my question is, all things being equal, would we be more or less likely to have our reps/senators say that we don't need to pass ENDA because we have some protections already, vs them saying we need to pass it because we have no (or little to no) protections at all? I'm sorry if this is a dumb question. I can't even begin to do the political calculus on this.

  • 11. Deeelaaach  |  April 12, 2012 at 12:27 pm

    Duh, with or without an executive order in place I meant…

  • 12. Scottie Thomaston  |  April 12, 2012 at 12:56 pm

    Well the executive order would only cover businesses contracting with the federal government. That's not insignificant by any stretch but it isn't nearly as sweeping as an ENDA law. So there would be no way that anyone could argue we don't need the legislation if we get the very limited executive order. And I am thinking the EO could be a pragmatic first step to build on for a future law.

  • 13. Richard Lyon  |  April 12, 2012 at 12:56 pm

    An executive order that only applies to federal contractors only reaches a very small portion of the people who would be effected by ENDA.

  • 14. Jamie  |  April 12, 2012 at 1:45 pm

    Stop begging for rights from politicians.

  • 15. Scottie Thomaston  |  April 12, 2012 at 1:53 pm


  • 16. Michelle Evans  |  April 12, 2012 at 2:03 pm

    We don't beg, we only ask for what is rightfully ours in the first place. The rights were installed in all people of this country nearly 236 years ago. It is sad that more than two centuries later we are still having to ask that they be recognized like those of everyone else.

  • 17. Jamie  |  April 12, 2012 at 4:15 pm

    I agree. It is sad.

  • 18. Prop 8 Trial Tracker &raq&hellip  |  April 20, 2012 at 6:23 am

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