White House says instead of contractor nondiscrimination order we need to “build support for passage of ENDA”
April 18, 2012
By Scottie Thomaston
Activists in the LGBT community have been pushing for an employment non-discrimination bill for decades upon decades. We’ve built up an organizational structure, changed hearts and minds, disseminated facts about the need for one, got lots of legislators on-board over the years and we have been keeping up pressure nonstop. The first time a non-discrimination bill for gay people was introduced in Congress was 38 years ago, in 1974. That bill didn’t go anywhere and for years they kept trying. In 1996, ENDA was voted on in the Senate for the first time and it failed, while at the same time Congress passed the Defense of Marriage Act.
In 2006, there were promises that ENDA would receive floor votes and get passed through Congress, finally, with leaders like Nancy Pelosi saying it is a priority. Then, in 2010, it was determined there would be no action on ENDA until after repeal of Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell. And finally, now that Republicans control the House and Democrats have a small majority in the Senate and may lose even more seats in November, it is increasingly unlikely anyone will attempt to pass anything through at this point.
For years, LGBT people have been asked – warned at some points – to have patience, to accept pragmatic steps toward equality, because we shouldn’t push too hard, ask for too much too soon. And we resisted for quite a long time on that, because equality shouldn’t have to come in pieces simply because politicians worry that taking concrete steps to affirm our humanity and equality might upset the right wing.
But, then we finally agreed: there is indeed a pragmatic step toward equality the White House could take. And we would welcome it. The White House could add LGBT people to an existing executive order on nondiscrimination of government contractors. Adding a set of people to an existing EO covering a small subset of workers and companies is not a huge leap. The polls even bear out that it has a lot of support from the American people – in fact even ENDA itself is enormously popular, and a lot of Americans even think we already passed it. The good thing about adding LGBTs to that executive order is it puts a foot in the door for future passage of ENDA – when nothing terrible happens after we’re receiving nondiscrimination protections, people will be less inclined to fight passage of a bill extending those protections to more of the LGBT community.
So then, how did the White House respond?
“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.
“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.”
And White House Press Secretary Jay Carney said:
“Our position hasn’t changed since we started talking about this last week. At this time, we believe that the right approach is to build support for passage of [Employment Non-Discrimination Act] legislation. And I think an example of why this approach can be most effective is the way that we approached the repeal of ‘Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell.’ So, there is no change.”
First of all, since LGBT activists have been “build[ing]” support for passage of the bill for over forty years, one wonders how much longer we need to wait for even a small piece of what ENDA would offer. We fought for decades, didn’t see any movement at all, and so we instead pushed for a sensible update to an already existing amendment. Now, the White House seems to be saying, “no, go back to the first thing you were doing.” Or do they not realize that we didn’t just start organizing at the beginning of this administration?
Secondly, I guess he’s talking about the legislative repeal of Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell that was going to be pushed back until after 2011 until a judge ruled it unconstitutional and servicemembers and other activists chained themselves to the White House fence. That was a bill that originally arrived in a different form, then the nondiscrimination part was stripped from the bill, then it was placed in the NDAA and voted down a couple of times, and finally at the last moment barely got cloture as a standalone bill at the last minute in a lame duck session of Congress. And now, of course, almost all the Republican candidates have promised for months that they will reinstate Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell, through an executive order or through going to Congress to ask for a vote. Despite the talk of an enduring solution, any Republican president can reverse it. That would likely be unpopular, but it is not an impossible thing for them to do because of some bulletproof legislative solution.
We have been building support for passage of ENDA for so long, and we really would have liked to see a pragmatic step taken in that direction, since we have a Republican-led House and passage of ENDA is completely inconceivable at this point in time.