Obama Won't End Discrimination Against LGBT Federal Contract Workers with Executive Order

What Women Really Think
April 12 2012 4:45 PM

Obama Refuses To Sign Executive Order Banning Discrimination Against LGBT Federal Contract Workers

91844836
President Obama said that his administration would not issue an executive order banning discrimination against LGBT people who work for federal contractors

Photograph by Maria Belen Perez Gabilondo/AFP/Getty Images.

In a high-profile meeting yesterday afternoon, top aides of President Obama* informed a group of lobbyists and advocates that his administration would not issue an executive order banning discrimination against LGBT people who work for federal contractors. Obama had campaigned in support of such an order back in 2008, but, according to meeting attendee and Center for American Progress executive vice president Winnie Stachelberg, the White House now espouses a “multipronged effort to better address workplace discrimination against gay and transgender Americans.”

J. Bryan Lowder J. Bryan Lowder

J. Bryan Lowder is a Slate assistant editor. He writes and edits for Outward, Slate’s LGBTQ section, and for the culture section.

Whatever that means.

Advertisement

To be fair, the administration also affirmed its support for the more comprehensive ENDA (Employment Non-Discrimination Act), a bill that would prohibit hiring and employment discrimination on the basis of sexual or gender identity. But ENDA has been bouncing around Congress since 1994, and given the current toxicity of the congressional environment, its sudden passage does not seem likely. Which is why most people pushing for the executive order, including some of the president's own party colleagues, saw it as a natural step along the way—and a rather large one at that, given that around 16 million workers would be covered according to some estimates—to something better.  

Unsurpisingly, LGBT advocates were less-than-thrilled with the news.

Charles Kaiser, a journalist and author of The Gay Metropolis, a history of gay life in the United States since 1940, was unsettled by the announcement. He recalled in an email that it was President Dwight Eisenhower who signed an executive order banning all federal agencies and all of their contractors from hiring gay people over a half-century ago.

“In 2012 it's outrageous that the current president is reluctant to sign an executive order that would do the opposite,” Kaiser added. “After getting Don't Ask, Don't Tell repealed, and refusing to defend DOMA in court, Obama has by far the best record on gay rights of any president. His decision to blemish that record this way is baffling and disturbing.”

Human Rights Campaign (HRC) president Joe Solmonese said in a statement that he was particularly shocked by the White House’s move considering the amount of evidence supporting the necessity of such a measure. “No similar executive order has ever had this kind of extensive research or factual basis established,” he said.

But in a high-stakes election year in which Obama is going to need the support of moderate voters and business interests resistant to further regulation, facts—especially ones concerning the difficulties that gay and transgender individuals can face in their work-lives every day—aren’t likely to count for as much as we might hope.

UPDATE: The New York Times has criticized the President's decision, calling it a "sin of omission." "His hesitation to ban gay bias by government contractors, like his continued failure to actually endorse the freedom to marry, feels like a cynical hedge," the editorial board writes. 

*Clarification: This post originally suggested that President Obama, himself, informed lobbyists of the decision, when, in fact, top aides delivered the news.

TODAY IN SLATE

Politics

The Democrats’ War at Home

How can the president’s party defend itself from the president’s foreign policy blunders?

Congress’ Public Shaming of the Secret Service Was Political Grandstanding at Its Best

Michigan’s Tradition of Football “Toughness” Needs to Go—Starting With Coach Hoke

A Plentiful, Renewable Resource That America Keeps Overlooking

Animal manure.

Windows 8 Was So Bad That Microsoft Will Skip Straight to Windows 10

Politics

Cringing. Ducking. Mumbling.

How GOP candidates react whenever someone brings up reproductive rights or gay marriage.

Building a Better Workplace

You Deserve a Pre-cation

The smartest job perk you’ve never heard of.

Hasbro Is Cracking Down on Scrabble Players Who Turn Its Official Word List Into Popular Apps

The Ludicrous Claims You’ll Hear at This Company’s “Egg Freezing Parties”

  News & Politics
Politics
Sept. 30 2014 9:33 PM Political Theater With a Purpose Darrell Issa’s public shaming of the head of the Secret Service was congressional grandstanding at its best.
  Business
Moneybox
Oct. 1 2014 8:34 AM Going Private To undertake a massively ambitious energy project, you don’t need the government anymore.
  Life
Atlas Obscura
Oct. 1 2014 10:32 AM The Corpse-Lined Hallways of the Capuchin Monastery Catacombs
  Double X
The XX Factor
Sept. 30 2014 12:34 PM Parents, Get Your Teenage Daughters the IUD
  Slate Plus
Behind the Scenes
Sept. 30 2014 3:21 PM Meet Jordan Weissmann Five questions with Slate’s senior business and economics correspondent.
  Arts
Brow Beat
Oct. 1 2014 8:46 AM The Vintage eBay Find I Wore to My Sentencing
  Technology
Future Tense
Oct. 1 2014 10:27 AM 3,000 French Scientists Are Marching to Demand More Research Funding
  Health & Science
Bad Astronomy
Oct. 1 2014 7:30 AM Say Hello to Our Quasi-Moon, 2014 OL339
  Sports
Sports Nut
Sept. 30 2014 5:54 PM Goodbye, Tough Guy It’s time for Michigan to fire its toughness-obsessed coach, Brady Hoke.