Obama to Sign Executive Order on LGBT Workplace Discrimination

Heather Greene —  June 18, 2014 — 7 Comments

Announced Monday, June 16, President Obama will soon sign an executive order that bans workplace discrimination for LGBT federal contractors. In a tweet, the White House said:

Last night President Obama confirmed his intentions in a speech given at the Democratic National Convention’s annual LGBT gala in New York City. According to the Los Angeles Times, he said that we can’t leave “talent off the field.” Then he jokingly added, “Sometimes you guys were a little impatient…Sometimes I had to say, ‘Will you just settle down for a second?'”

All of this coming on the heels of the president declaring that June is “Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender Pride Month.” The opening paragraph of the proclamation reads:

As progress spreads from State to State, as justice is delivered in the courtroom, and as more of our fellow Americans are treated with dignity and respect — our Nation becomes not only more accepting, but more equal as well. During Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender (LGBT) Pride Month, we celebrate victories that have affirmed freedom and fairness, and we recommit ourselves to completing the work that remains.

David Salisbury

David Salisbury

Wiccan Author David Salisbury is actively involved in the ongoing campaign efforts for LGBT equality. He is an employee of the Human Rights Campaign (HRC), the “largest civil rights organization working to achieve equality for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender Americans.” In response to the executive order, Salisbury says:

President Obama’s decision to protect 16 million more Americans from discrimination in the workplace is a true marker for where the national equality movement is going. Although marriage is the “sexy” topic of the day, we can’t forget that workplace discrimination is harming real people every day, all over the country.

Generally speaking, most members of the LGBT community have praised the president’s announcement because it demonstrates a positive momentum toward acceptance. High Priestess Kali Firemoon has been a federal contractor since 1999 and is “ecstatic.” She says:

While I have worked with several openly gay individuals throughout the years, as the sole breadwinner in my family of one, I never felt safe enough to simply be myself. I was always in fear of being dismissed. Contractors can be let go without prejudice and they have no recourse, unlike Federal Employees. This executive order, while not providing absolute protection, certainly goes a long way in making the Federal environment safer.

While most of  the LGBT community is indeed celebrating, the president’s news doesn’t come without a sting. Antonio Castillo, a Pagan living in the “Bible Belt” and a victim of workplace discrimination, explains:

While I think that this is a major victory for federal contractors, the reason that President Obama was reluctant to sign this was he wanted the “real deal.” He wanted Congress to pass a law ending workplace discrimination everywhere, and he was worried that the executive order would be used as an excuse for inaction by an already fractured Congress. Now that passage of ENDA has become extremely unlikely, he is settling for what he can do with his pen. I think that it is good of him to do it, but it does signal yet another failure of Congress to do the right thing.

ENDA, or the Employee Non-Discrimination Act, is proposed federal legislation that would end private sector workplace discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender-identity. The Senate passed ENDA in November 2013 but Congressional legislators have yet to bring it before the House.

President Obama [Public Domain Photo]

President Obama [Public Domain Photo]

Like Castillo, Salisbury laments the ongoing situation with ENDA but he says, “I don’t think we’ll ever view it as ‘dead.’ Just delayed.” He adds:

Our movement has been pushing ENDA in one form or another for many years. It faces huge challenges in a Republican-controlled house, but we are seeing progress every month with more sponsors signing on … In the meantime, it is so important to push for business policy change, reward companies who are doing great work, and changing hearts and minds through sharing stories. Employment nondiscrimination is truly a common-sense cause when most people stop to think about it.

Some critics of the president’s announcement wonder “why he should bother?” Many federal contractors and private corporations already have discrimination policies in place that protect LGBT employees. According to a Washington Post article:

The top 5 federal contractors are all defense contractors — Lockheed Martin, Boeing, Northrop Grumman, Raytheon and General Dynamics … Five out of five have nondiscrimination policies that include sexual orientation; five out of five have nondiscrimination policies that include gender identity; and the four largest provide domestic partner benefits.

HRC maintains its own Corporate Equality Index which is a “national benchmarking tool” ranking private companies on their policies and treatment of LGBT employees. According to the 2014 ranking 304 corporations received a perfect score.

HumanRightsCampaignPolicy changes have been made and rights recognized despite presidential involvement and the approval of ENDA. However, Salisbury responds saying, “The [executive] order sends a strong message that the time for employment nondiscrimination has come…”

He goes on to explain how the executive order is not only a vital message for private business but it is also an important communication to the LGBT community in general. Salisbury says:

Even if you aren’t employed by the federal government, it’s still helpful to move through your day knowing that the leadership of your country acknowledges your rights as a human being. This extends all the way to teens who live in the deep south. A bullied LGBT child may not be covered by an order like this, but he or she watching this on the news sends a message of hope. It says, we’re working to make the future a brighter place for you. And we want you in it. Pagans especially are in a position to relate, as we’ve had before fired on basis of religion for decades. It’s exciting to see the cross-pollination of progress.

The White House has not yet published an exact date for when the president will sign the executive order. However Obama made his intentions very clear at the DNC gala last night, which brought multiple standing ovations.

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Heather Greene

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Heather is a freelance writer and Pagan spirit living in the Deep South. She has served as Public Information Officer for Covenant of the Goddess and worked extensively with Lady Liberty League. Heather's work has been published in Circle Magazine and elsewhere. She has a masters degree in Film Theory, Criticism and History with a background in the performing and visual arts.
  • P. Sufenas Virius Lupus

    While I am happy about this, and I admire the work that David and others are doing, there is still a very long way to go…even when trans* rights and personhood are universally acknowledged, and even in companies and contexts where they are already affirmed and protected, note that it does not cover those of us who are not gendered as either male or female/men or women. Even in David’s comments above, he uses “he or she” to refer to the general population of LGBT individuals, which still indicates a binary gender essentialism. I can be fired from my job at the moment, even though there is a non-discrimination policy in place regarding trans* identity, because I am not a man or a woman, with no legal recourse whatsoever.
    [And, again, no personal disrespect to David, but HRC itself is often not quite as good when it comes to bisexuals, trans* folks, or other varieties of queer person; and all of their religious initiatives and activism, at least that I’ve seen thus far, have left any form of modern Paganism out entirely. It would be good if they started taking the potential religious resources of their own current employees more seriously…perhaps that’s something that can take place sooner rather than later with a few words from within the group itself.]
    Of course, there’s always more work to be done, so celebrating and taking stock of the advances is certainly a good idea when they do happen.

    • Baruch Dreamstalker

      Word!

    • http://www.xkcd.com/285 Eran Rathan

      Please forgive me if I cause any offense, but I am genuinely curious how you identify. And if its none of my business feel free to tell me that too – I’m trying to ask this as respectfully as possible.

      I have friends who are gay, bi, trans*, and who have transitioned MtF; but all of them have identified as either men or women, just not necessarily with the correct bits.

      • P. Sufenas Virius Lupus

        Thank you for asking in a sensitive fashion–I’m always happy to answer questions like this when they are asked in that fashion! ;)

        I am a metagender person; you can read a little bit more about that at the following link:

        http://aediculaantinoi.wordpress.com/a-note-on-pronouns/

        And if you have any other questions, feel free to ask!

        • http://www.xkcd.com/285 Eran Rathan

          cool – that is the first I’ve ever heard of Spivak, though I am familiar with the zie/zir formats.

  • http://quakerpagan.org Cat C-B

    I love that this includes trans rights!

    I get that there’s a lot more to ending discrimination against glbtq folks than Federal contracts, and P. Sufenas Virius Lupus is not wrong to point out that gender is more complex than current legal understandings of it; there’s a lot left to do to ban discrimination against those whose gender, cis or trans, doesn’t fit a binary definition, but even more than that, there has to be protection nationwide. As a matter of state law, and as a matter of Federal law. This is only a beginning.

    But it’s a beginning. I have sat with trans folk fired without recourse, and the only tool I had in my toolkit was empathy.

    I prefer that we not hear such stories at all, of course. But if we need to hear them, I’d love to hear them with empathy and some legal teeth.

    (I also love that we have Pagan spokesmen like David Salisbury who can speak to our movement and of our movement. Feels good.)

  • Carthage Must Be Destroyed!

    Well I guess it just one more imperial decree that will be rolled back or nullified, when the self appointed imperial majesty is gone.