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:
Share the news: President Obama will prohibit federal contractors from discriminating on the basis of sexual orientation or gender identity.
— The White House (@WhiteHouse) June 16, 2014
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.
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.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.
Policy 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.