Is Obama Doing Enough?

The president is criticized for failing to protect LGBT workers with ENDA

Tico Almeida asks President Obama some tough questions about employment discrimination (courtesy of Freedom to Work)

When the White House announced President Barack Obama would not sign an executive order at this time to prohibit federal contractors from discriminating against LGBT Americans, folks like Tico Almeida, the president of Freedom to Work, an organization committed to banning workplace harassment and discrimination against LGBT people, was furious.

“This is a political calculation that cannot stand,” says Almeida, announcing the launch of  the “We Can’t Wait!” campaign to beat back homophobia in the workplace.

Almeida first created Freedom to Work last year to address the Employment Non-Discrimination Act (ENDA) that was being discussed by the White House – an order that would make it illegal to discrimination against anyone over their sexual orientation and gender identity on a federal level. He understood the order from the inside out. From 2007 to 2010, Almeida served as lead counsel on the proposed ENDA for the Committee on Education and Labor of the U.S. House of Representatives. He drafted several portions of the bill, organized Committee hearings in support of ENDA, and built a thorough Congressional record necessary to apply ENDA to state government employers.

It all seemed to be progressing well – until the bill landed on the president’s desk and he refused to sign it.

“I urged senior White House staff yesterday to reconsider their mistake,” says Almeida. “We will continue to publicly urge them to reconsider for many months to come. White House staffers and lawyers have let politics stand in the way of a basic American value – that a solid day’s work deserves a solid day’s pay, regardless of the color of your skin, your place of worship, your gender or who you love.”

Almeida has a point, especially with so much riding on the LGBT vote this election year. Though one of the biggest enemies to LGBT rights – Rick Santorum – may have suspended his campaign this week, Mitt Romney, considered to be the frontrunner among Repulican candidates, is hardly sympathetic to the gay cause. And while rumors spin that in his second term – should he be reelected – President Obama may prove to be a valiant crusader for equal rights for the LGBT community, even going so far as to possibly push for marriage equality on a federal level, his Milquetoast attitude over ENDA doesn’t bode well for his LGBT supporters and voters.

“We can’t wait for the White House to catch up with this basic democratic value, we can’t wait for them to catch up with the prevailing views of the American public, we can’t wait for them to do what is right for the American taxpayers who should not have to subsidize discrimination,” says Almeida. “And now we have the resources, as well as the will, to give the White House some political courage on this issue.”

And apparently many stand with Almeida and his online “We Can’t Wait” campaign. Within hours of the White House announcement, the campaign received a $100,000 cash infusion from liberal donor Jonathan Lewis, the son of major Democratic philanthropist Peter Lewis.

“This isn’t a broken promise President Obama can blame on Congress,” says Lewis. “He has not been able to provide a single valid reason for why he is now refusing to sign the executive order protecting LGBT workers. It has become increasingly clear that this decision is based on cowardice rather than principled leadership.”

Polling from the Human Rights Campaign has shown that 73 percent of Americans support an executive order barring federal contractors from discriminating against LGBT employees. Additionally, 90 percent of Americans believe federal protections already exist for LGBT workers nationwide, according to a survey from the Center for American Progress.

“Over the past several years, the LGBT advocacy groups have jumped through hoops for this administration, conducting extensive research and polling – more than has been done for any similar executive order – and now the only impediment is President Obama,” says Lewis. “This is nothing short of craven election-year politics, a game Obama told us he would not play.”

Freedom to Work has led an effort to collect online petition signatures on to support the executive order, collecting more than 110,000 signatures in just a few days. We hope that President Obama keeps the promise he made while campaigning in 2008. Then, as a candidate seeking the Democratic nomination to run for president then, he was asked by the Houston GLBT Political Caucus if he would support a “formal written policy of non-discrimination that includes sexual orientation and gender identity or expression … for all Federal contractors.”

Obama said “yes.”

He also responded to the group’s 2008 presidential candidate questionnaire, saying 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 says that he supported such a policy for all federal employees and, in a separate question, for all federal contractors.

So why the wait, Mr. President?