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Perez says ENDA executive order under consideration

Labor Thomas Perez said the administration continues to "contemplate" the issue of an ENDA executive order (Washington Blade file photo by Michael Key).

Labor Thomas Perez said the administration continues to “contemplate” the issue of an ENDA executive order. (Washington Blade file photo by Michael Key).

Labor Secretary Thomas Perez said Wednesday the issue of an executive order prohibiting anti-LGBT discrimination among federal contractors is something ”we continue to contemplate and work on” as he declined to comment on whether his department could implement the order.

Under questioning by the Washington Blade, Perez said during a surprise appearance at the regular White House news briefing that he’s aware of the long-sought directive to protect workers on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity.

“I can’t get into what ifs,” Perez said. “I’m certainly aware of the executive order that was proposed that you’re talking about, and the president takes a back seat to no one in his commitment for equal access to opportunity for people regardless of race, religious, sexual orientation or gender identity. And it’s an issue that we continue to contemplate and work on.”

Sources close to the administration have already told the Washington Blade the Labor Department, as well as the Justice Department, have already green-lighted the executive order for the White House.

Also during the briefing, Perez was asked by the Blade whether the Labor Department would apply Executive Order 11246 — the existing directive that prohibits gender discrimination among federal contractors — to transgender workers in the wake of the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission’s decision two years ago in Macy v. Holder.

“That issue is under review in the aftermath of the Macy decision,” Perez said. “I’ve asked my staff to expedite that review so that we can bring that issue to a conclusion at the Department of Labor.”

Asked when the process of review would come to an end, Perez said, “I’m hoping it will to come to an end as soon as possible.”

As Buzzfeed notes, his comments indicate the Labor Department isn’t currently implementing the existing executive order to protect transgender workers in the same way that Title VII is enforced — even though that law governs the enforcement of the executive order.

Ever since the decision two years ago in Macy v. Holder, which interpreted Title VII of the Civil Rights Act to protect transgender workers from discrimination, the Labor Department previously hasn’t responded to requests for comment on whether it will implement Executive Order 11246 to protect transgender workers.

Buzzfeed published a series of reports saying the Labor Department has refused to comment on whether it would extend the protections via executive order. Most recently, a Buzzfeed reporter was blocked from accessing a news conference with Perez on Monday reportedly because officials didn’t believe he would ask questions relevant to the veterans event.

With regard to a new executive order for both sexual orientation and gender identity, Perez’s remarks that the administration continues to “contemplate” the issue is consistent with White House counselor John Podesta’s remarks that the directive is “under consideration” as well as other hints the order is coming.

But when Reuters’ Jeff Mason followed up during the same briefing on Perez’ “contemplate” comments, White House Press Secretary Jay Carney attempted to tamp them down and reiterated support for legislation known as the Employment Non-Discrimination Act. However, Carney spoke generally about discussions taking place.

“I think what I can say is what I’ve said in the past is that I don’t have updates for you on obviously the discussion in Washington and beyond about that kind of executive action,” Carney said. “What our position is and has been is that we strongly support the Employment Non-Discrimination Act. We note the progress made in the Senate, there’s been movement in the Senate, against some of the conventional wisdom, we’ve seen movement on this.”

Carney concluded, “I just don’t have any update on the discussion around other hypothetical EOs, and I think that’s what Secretary Perez has indicated.”

Asked by Reuters for clarification about whether the media should read any shift from the administration in Perez’s remarks, Carney spoke broadly about “opportunities” under examination.

“I think broadly speaking, the administration looks at all opportunities to advance an agenda that expands opportunity that levels the playing field that sustains the equal opportunity for all that is part of the president’s vision,” Carney said. “That’s a broad matter. On specific, would the president do this executive action or that executive action? That list could be endless, and I don’t have any update for you that kind of proposition.”

Workplace protections issues weren’t the only LGBT matter that came up during the briefing. CBS News’ Major Garrett asked for an update from the White House on Missouri defensive lineman Michael Sam, who recently came out as gay, seeking placement on a team in the NFL.

Carney said since the last White House briefing he talked to President Obama about the development, but didn’t convey whether Obama called Sam as he did with NBA player Jason Collins.

“I don’t have any details on the president’s conversations or phone calls,” Carney said. “I can tell you that I have spoken about this with him and he, like the first lady, like so many others, admires Michael Sam’s courage and believes that the action he’s taken is an important step and looks forward to seeing him playing in the NFL.”

A transcript of the exchanges on workplace issues follow:

Washington Blade: Speaking of executive orders, there’s been a lot of discussion recently about a potential executive order that would bar federal contractors from discriminating on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity. If the President were to sign such an executive order, could the Labor Department implement it?

Secretary Tom Perez: Well, I can’t get into what-ifs. I’m certainly aware of the executive order that was proposed that you’re talking about. And the President takes a backseat to no one in his commitment for equal access to opportunity for people regardless of race, religion, sexual orientation or gender identity. And it’s an issue that we continue to contemplate and work on.

Blade: On a related note, there’s also been talk about implementing existing order — Executive Order 11246, which prohibits discrimination on the basis of gender, and apply that to transgender workers to prohibit discrimination against them in the wake of Macy v. Holder. Will the Labor Department take that step?

Perez: That issue is under review in the aftermath of the Macy decision. And I’ve asked my staff to expedite that review so that we can bring that issue to conclusion at the Department of Labor.

Washington Blade: When will the review come to an end?

Perez: I’m hoping it will come to an end as soon as possible.

Reuters: Jay, two questions. One, I’d like to follow up on something that Secretary Perez said in response to Chris’s question. Is the administration contemplating executive action on LGBT workplace non-discrimination? That was the word that he used.

Jay Carney: Well, I think what I can say to that is what I’ve said in the past, is that I don’t have any updates for you on obviously the discussion in Washington and beyond about that kind of executive action. What our position is and has been is that we strongly support the Employment Non-Discrimination Act. We note the progress made in the Senate, the fact that there’s been movement in the Senate on this, and I think against some of the conventional wisdom we’ve seen movement on this.

On the broader range of issues around LGBT rights, we’ve seen dramatic progress, and we’re going to keep pressing Congress to catch up with the country on these issues. Turning the Employment Non-Discrimination Act into law would be a huge step forward by Congress, and the President looks forward to that happening. But I just don’t have any update on the discussion around other hypothetical EOs, and I think that’s what Secretary Perez was indicating.

Reuters: It wasn’t a hypothetical, so I just wanted to clarify, should we read into that any sort of a shift in the position of maybe going away from just a congressional push back to the possibility of an executive order?

Jay Carney: I think broadly speaking, the administration looks at all opportunities to advance an agenda that expands opportunity, that levels the playing field, that sustains equal opportunity for all that is part of the President’s vision. That’s as a broad matter. On specific — would the President do this executive action or that executive action, I mean, that list could be endless, and I don’t have any update for you on that kind of proposition.

What I can tell you is that it is our policy position that the House ought to and the Congress ought to send the Employment Non-Discrimination Act to the President’s desk so he can sign it into law.

12
Feb
2014

At last, signs of progress in Michigan

Chris Johnson, gay news, Washington Blade, Michigan

Washington Blade political reporter Chris Johnson. (Washington Blade photo by Damien Salas)

It was finally my turn: After years of covering LGBT politics at the Washington Blade and the advancement of marriage equality across the nation, my home state of Michigan became the latest place (albeit briefly) to grant same-sex couples the right to marry.

U.S. District Judge Bernard Friedman’s ruling striking down Michigan’s 2004 ban on same-sex marriage last week is on hold as the U.S. Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals considers the case, but the ruling marks the first time I’m aware of that gay people in Michigan, which doesn’t have a single major pro-LGBT law, were told they’re equal to their fellow Michiganders.

Without a doubt, I was beaming with pride for Michigan, where I was born and raised in Lansing and attended college at the University of Michigan, Ann Arbor. My home state became the latest ember the torch of marriage equality lit up in anticipation of a nationwide U.S. Supreme Court ruling next year. The ruling was a signal that when I return to the place where I grew up to see my parents and friends, I should expect to bring with me equal protection under the law for my (eventual) family.

That view is in line with a majority of Michigan residents. According to a poll last year from the Michigan firm Epic MRA, 55 percent of Michigan voters are behind same-sex marriage, and that number inches up to 57 percent when respondents were told a change in law wouldn’t mean religious organizations would have to perform same-sex wedding ceremonies.

But my excitement is tempered because Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder and Attorney General Bill Schuette are appealing the decision and ensured no gay couple can marry in the state as the litigation moves forward by obtaining a stay from the U.S. Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals.

In an op-ed for the Detroit Free Press, Schuette writes that it’s “fundamentally wrong” to treat people differently based on the color of skin, gender, race or ethnicity, but apparently has a different view on sexual orientation.

“The notion that marriage would be anything else has only emerged in the last few decades,” Schuette writes. “It is not irrational for voters to support the belief that a mom and a dad are not interchangeable.”

It’s the latest in a string of anti-gay actions from an administration that bills itself as moderate in nature. I suppose we must give Snyder some credit for distancing himself from the anti-gay views spewing from Republican National Committee member Dave Agema, but the governor also signed into law a bill stripping Michigan public employees of same-sex partner benefits — an action that was eventually overturned by the courts.

That hostility toward gay people, unfortunately, is much of the Michigan I remember growing up — at least in school. Just recently, I saw a study on the bullying of youth that found body type and sexual orientation are two of the most common reasons why kids are harassed at school. I had both going for me.

As a teen short of stature growing up in a blue-collar area who, for some reason, was not into girls like my classmates, I would often cry in my dad’s car before being dropped off for middle school in the morning and not want to go. Thankfully, I was never physically assaulted, but my fellow students intimidated me, excluded me from activities and spewed vitriolic comments about me (sometimes cloaked in religious proselytization) that made me and my education suffer.

But, as I and so many others who had a similar experience found, it gets better. That kid grew up to move to D.C. and join the White House press corps as political reporter for the Washington Blade. Someone who’d want to psychoanalyze me might see a link between my troubled youth and why I question sources so fiercely when the administration isn’t doing enough on LGBT rights.

I look forward to the day when the lawsuit is settled and marriage equality is the law in my home state. Until then, my feelings about the situation are as conflicted as I feel about Michigan, which, even though I had troubled experience growing up, is the place in many ways I consider still home.

27
Mar
2014

White House has no comment on Utah same-sex marriages

Jay Carney, White House, gay news, Washington Blade

White House Press Secretary Jay Carney has no comment on Utah same-sex marriage litigation (Washington Blade photo by Damien Salas).

White House Press Secretary Jay Carney said Tuesday he has no comment on the stay placed by the Supreme Court on same-sex marriages in Utah, but reiterated President Obama’s support for marriage equality.

Under questioning from the Washington Blade, Carney said the White House has nothing to say about Kitchen v. Herbert, the litigation that brought same-sex marriage to Utah before the Supreme Court halted the weddings Monday as the lawsuit continues through the courts.

“We have no comment on the specifics of this case because the United States government is not a party to this litigation, but speaking broadly, as you know, the president’s views on marriage equality are well-established,” Carney said.

Carney went into detail about the president’s support for marriage rights for gay couples — first made public by the president in 2012 during an interview with Good Morning America’s Robin Roberts — as well as Obama’s opposition to taking those rights away.

“He believes that loving, committed gay and lesbian couples that want to get married and have access to the full benefits, protections and obligations that marriage brings should be able to do so,” Carney said. “He has also long opposed divisive and discriminatory efforts to deny rights and benefits to same-sex couples, and he believes strongly that protections shouldn’t be taken away from gay and lesbian couples who want to take care of their families.”

Carney said Obama opposes efforts to take rights away from gay couples amid questions over whether couples who already married in Utah will be recognized as legally married by Utah and the federal government. On Tuesday, Dena Iveerson, a Justice Department spokesperson, said, “We are reviewing the court’s decision.”

According to the Salt Lake Tribune, at least 1,324 same-sex marriages were performed in Utah after the district court ruled in favor of marriage equality on Dec. 20, but before the Supreme Court issued its stay.

Asked whether there are any conversations happening the White House and the Justice Department about whether the federal government will consider those marriages valid, Carney referred all inquiries to the department.

“I would refer you to the Department of Justice,” Carney said. “Again, this is matter that’s in litigation now, we’re not a party to the litigation. The views of the president are well known, and when it comes to questions like that, I think, the Justice Department is the best place to ask them.”

07
Jan
2014

White House mum on marriage going to Supreme Court

Jay Carney, White House, gay news, Washington Blade

White House Press Secretary Jay Carney has no comment on marriage coming to the Supreme Court (Washington Blade file photo by Damien Salas).

White House Press Secretary Jay Carney side-stepped a question Friday on whether President Obama is eager to see the U.S. Supreme Court take up the issue of marriage equality, reflecting instead on the growth on public support of same-sex marriage.

In response to a question from the Washington Blade, Carney refused to comment on the potential for a nationwide ruling from the Supreme Court on marriage equality in the wake of federal court decision against Virginia’s ban on same-sex marriage.

“Well, I’m not going to speak hypothetically about cases the Supreme Court may or may not take,” Carney said. “What I can tell you is the president supports, as he made clear, making available to LGBT Americans the rights that we all should enjoy, and his views on same-sex marriage were, I think, very powerfully expressed.”

Referencing Obama’s own evolution on his path to announcing his support for marriage equality, Carney said the president takes pride in the growing support for same-sex marriage in recent years.

“He feels very gratified by the enormous progress that’s been made on this issue, and the change in perspectives that I think we’ve seen ‘evolve’ across the country in rather a remarkable amount of time — a remarkably short amount of time — which is not to say that it shouldn’t have happened earlier, but that it is, given the way these kinds of struggles for equal rights play out, notable and commendable that Americans across the country have embraced this issue as strongly as the have,” Carney said.

Carney had no comment when asked whether he anticipates that the Obama administration would participate in any of the pending lawsuits seeking marriage equality as it did with litigation that overturned Section 3 of the Defense of Marriage Act and California’s Proposition 8.

“I wouldn’t be the right person to guess,” Carney said. “You might look for speculation at the Justice Department.”

The Justice Department didn’t immediately respond to the Washington Blade’s request to comment. The Obama administration participated in litigation against DOMA as a party to the lawsuit and in the case against Prop 8 as a friend of the court.

A number of LGBT advocates have weighed in on the possibility of the Obama administration participating in the marriage cases. Freedom to Marry President Evan Wolfson said the administration “should absolutely be part” of all the marriage cases, while legal duo Ted Olson and David Boies as well as Human Rights Campaign Chad Griffin said they’d welcome Obama’s participation.

A brief transcript of the exchange follows:

Washington Blade: A federal court yesterday ruled against Virginia’s ban on same-sex marriage. At least four circuit courts will be considering the issue this spring, which likely means the Supreme Court will be taking up the issue and making a decision next year. Is the president eager for the Supreme Court to make an nationwide decision on this over the course of his presidency?

Jay Carney: Well, I’m not going to speak hypothetically about cases the Supreme Court may or may not take. What I can tell you is the president supports, as he made clear, making available to LGBT Americans the rights that we all should enjoy, and his views on same-sex marriage were, I think, very powerfully expressed. And he feels very gratified by the enormous progress that’s been made on this issue, and the change in perspectives that I think we’ve seen “evolve” across the country in rather a remarkable amount of time — a remarkably short amount of time — which is not to say that it shouldn’t have happened earlier, but that it is, given the way these kinds of struggles for equal rights play out, notable and commendable that Americans across the country have embraced this issue as strongly as the have.

Blade: But do you anticipate the administration will participate in the cases as much as it did in the DOMA and the Prop 8 cases?

Carney: I wouldn’t be the right person to guess. You might look for speculation at the Justice Department.

14
Feb
2014

White House not backing down in new ENDA flap

Josh Earnest, White House, Barack Obama Administration, press, gay news, Washington Blade, back down

White House Principal Deputy Press Secretary Josh Earnest wouldn’t back down from comments that an executive order would be redundant with an executive order in place. (Washington Blade photo by Michael Key)

The White House wouldn’t back down Friday from controversial comments that an executive order protecting LGBT federal workers would be “redundant” if the Employment Non-Discrimination Act is signed into law — despite criticism from LGBT rights supporters.

In response to a question from the Washington Blade, White House Principal Deputy Press Secretary Josh Earnest declined to say whether the White House now sees value in having both the executive order and ENDA in place, following the criticism. Instead, he talked about President Obama’s support for the legislation.

“The fact of the matter is our position on legislation that would codify into the law that individuals can’t be discriminated against at work just because of who they love — we strongly support that legislation,” Earnest said. “We urge Congress to pass that legislation, and that is what our position is.”

In response to a follow-up question about whether the White House believes Executive Order 11246, which prohibits federal contractors from discriminating on the basis of race, color, religion, gender or national origin, is also redundant under existing civil rights law, Earnest said he didn’t know.

“I’m not familiar with that specific executive order,” Earnest said. “We can certainly look into it for you. But in terms of the thrust of your question, the president’s unwavering support for ENDA legislation has not changed.”

Earnest’s boss Jay Carney found himself in hot water Thursday when, under questioning from the Blade, he said that an executive order would be redundant under ENDA. Carney prefaced his response by saying he isn’t a lawyer and hasn’t read every word of ENDA.

LGBT rights supporters — ranging from the Human Rights Campaign, the National Gay & Lesbian Task Force and Freedom to Work — pointed out that other categories of workers are protected under both Executive Order 11246 and Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, the law prohibiting job discrimination on the basis race, color, religion, sex and national origin and LGBT workers deserve similar protections.

Additionally. the enforcement mechanisms would be different because ENDA would be enforced by the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, but the executive order would be enforced by the Labor Department’s Office of Federal Contract Compliance. Although small businesses and religious organizations would be exempt under ENDA, they could face penalties for discriminating against LGBT workers with the executive order in place if they do business with the federal government.

Shin Inouye, a White House spokesperson, provided a response similar to Earnest’s when asked if the White House now believes that an executive order is “redundant” with ENDA in place, saying, “The president continues to urge Congress to pass ENDA so that he can sign it into law.”

In response to Earnest’s latest comments, LGBT advocates reiterated their position that having both an executive order and ENDA on the books is necessary to provide full and equal non-discrimination protections for LGBT workers.

Ian Thompson, legislative representative for the American Civil Liberties Union, took the White House to task for asserting the executive order would be “redundant” with ENDA and for dodging on whether the same is true for Executive Order 11246 and Title VII.

“This should not be so complicated for the White House,” Thompson said. “Both Title VII and EO 11246 have provided workers with vital protections against discrimination for a half century. No one would credibly argue that Title VII has made EO 11246, and the Office of Federal Contract Compliance Programs (OFCCP) within the Department of Labor, ‘redundant.’ Rather than continuing to punt the ball back to Congress, it is time for President Obama to deliver on a promise he made when he was running for office.”

04
Apr
2014

Will Obama ‘use the pen’ to protect LGBT workers?

Jay Carney, White House, gay news, Washington Blade

White House Press Secretary Jay Carney won’t say whether Obama’s use of his pen will include action to protect LGBT workers. (Washington Blade photo by Damien Salas)

President Obama pledged this week to take executive action if Congress fails to pass certain items on his legislative agenda, but so far the strategy of bypassing Congress doesn’t extend to the issue of barring discrimination against LGBT workers.

In public remarks before a Cabinet meeting on Tuesday, Obama said he intends to make clear that Congress isn’t the only path for policy change, saying “we are not just going to be waiting for legislation” to provide aid to Americans.

“I’ve got a pen and I’ve got a phone,” Obama said. “And I can use that pen to sign executive orders, and take executive actions and administrative actions that move the ball forward in helping to make sure our kids are getting the best education possible, and making sure that our businesses are getting the kind of support and help they need to grow and advance to make sure that people are getting the skills that they need to get those jobs that our businesses are creating.”

That situation could apply to the Employment Non-Discrimination Act, a bill that would bar most employers from engaging in anti-LGBT workplace discrimination. Although the bill passed the Senate last year on a bipartisan basis, it has languished in the House. House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) has said he opposes the legislation.

LGBT advocates are jumping on Obama’s remarks as another opportunity to push him to sign the executive order prohibiting federal contractors from discriminating against LGBT workers.

Fred Sainz, vice president of communications for the Human Rights Campaign, said his organization “certainly hope[s]” the president’s words — and similar words from other administration officials — indicates Obama is preparing to take action to institute LGBT non-discrimination protections.

“The White House’s statements were a perfect description of the executive order that hardworking LGBT Americans need,” Sainz said.

Rea Carey, executive director of the National Gay & Lesbian Task Force, said the “time is right for more action” in the wake of Obama’s words that he’ll use his pen to advance his agenda.

“If politics is local, then all the administration has to do is take a look at what Virginia’s new Gov. Terry McAuliffe did as his first act — signing an executive order that protects LGBT state employees from discrimination,” Carey said. “With one stroke of his pen, the president can immediately improve the lives of LGBT people across the country; we encourage him to use it.”

But the White House maintains the legislative route to protecting LGBT workers from discrimination is the path it prefers.

Under questioning from the Washington Blade, White House Press Secretary Jay Carney said on Thursday he doesn’t “have any change or update” from the administration’s previously stated preference for passage of ENDA over an executive order prohibiting LGBT discrimination among federal contractors.

“So our view has always been that the best way to address this important matter is through broad, comprehensive employment non-discrimination legislation,” Carney said. “And we support action on that legislation in the House so that the president can sign it.”

Asked by another reporter why the president would take executive action to advance his policies on issues such as gun control and education, but not on LGBT discrimination, Carney reiterated the administration’s position.

“We are very focused on the potential for further action in the Congress — for the progress that we’ve seen around the country and in Congress in recognizing that these are fundamental rights that ought to be recognized,” Carney said. “And we expect that Congress will, as I said, get on the road toward progress that so many in this country have been traveling on these issues.”

Obama’s words this week mark a significant change in tone from what he’s previously said on the issue of bypassing Congress and issuing executive orders to enact new policy.

In November during a fundraiser for the Democratic National Committee in San Francisco, Obama was heckled by an audience member who kept shouting “executive order.” Although the protester didn’t make clear on what issue he was seeking executive action, Obama responded that his belief generally is that he shouldn’t bypass Congress.

“There is no shortcut to politics,” Obama said. “And there’s no shortcut to democracy. And we have to win on the merits of the argument with the American people. As laborious as it seems sometimes, as much misinformation as there is out there sometimes, as frustrating as it may be sometimes, what we have to do is just keep on going, keep on pushing.”

The reason for the change in tone could be attributable to a new face on the White House staff. John Podesta has recently joined the staff as a counselor to Obama. During his time building the Center for American Progress as its founder, Podesta was a strong advocate of use of executive power by the president.

In a 2010 report titled, “The Power of the President: Recommendations to Advance Positive Change,” Podesta advocates for the use of executive power for Obama to advance job creation and economic competitiveness and to improve education, health care and security.

“Concentrating on executive powers presents a real opportunity for the Obama administration to turn its focus away from a divided Congress and the unappetizing process of making legislative sausage,” Podesta writes. “Instead, the administration can focus on the president’s ability to deliver results for the American people on the things that matter most to them.”

Winnie Stachelberg, vice president of external affairs at the Center for American Progress, insisted that Obama has asserted he has the prerogative to exercise executive authority, saying she supports him doing so for LGBT workers.

“I think his comments this week and comments from others who are senior advisers at the White House that he will act if Congress doesn’t is in keeping with what he has said in his first term and in the past year in his second term,” Stachelberg said. “He has been clear that he wants to work with Congress on issues that challenge our country, but where and when Congress won’t act, he will use the authority that he has.”

Obama will likely flesh out what he intends to pursue through executive action during his annual State of the Union Address before a joint session of Congress on Jan. 28. Although the details of the speech are under wraps, Obama has already disclosed he’ll talk about mobilizing the country around a national mission of ensuring the economy offers all hardworking Americans a fair shot at success.

Tico Almeida, president of Freedom to Work, identified another item that Obama should bring up during the State of the Union speech: pushing the U.S. House to finish the job on ENDA.

“We will keep pushing for an ENDA vote in the House of Representatives in 2014, and we hope the president will use the State of the Union Address to call for that vote, but the very best thing he can do right now is lead by example and sign the executive order,” Almeida said.

Advocates of workplace protections pushed Obama to sign the directive prior to his campaign to win a second term, but the White House announced it wouldn’t happen at that time. Despite a presumption the president would sign the measure once re-elected, there was no change in the White House position following Election Day.

After first lady Michelle Obama was heckled during a DNC fundraiser over the executive order, renewed pressure was placed on the White House, and advocates had renewed hopes Obama would announce he would sign the order at the annual Pride reception at the White House. Instead, Obama took the opportunity to renew his call for ENDA passage.

Finally, amid questions over whether Obama would sign the executive order once ENDA made it halfway through Congress and passed the Senate, the White House indicated there was still no change in plans.

Dan Pinello, a political scientist at the City University of New York, didn’t put much stock in the notion that things would change this time around — despite the president’s words.

“My guess is that Obama would not issue an executive order that might unduly upset the business community,” Pinello said. “He’s been fairly deferential to them.”

Pinello added most federal contractors are large enough business entities that they likely have LGBT non-discrimination provisions already in place with regard to LGBT people.

“Thus, there might be significantly diminished returns from such an executive order, especially in light of the antagonism potentially felt by those small contractors who’d feel put upon by the action,” Pinello said. “So I’d be surprised if Obama did it.”

17
Jan
2014

White House silent on judicial nominee with anti-gay record

Josh Earnest, White House, Barack Obama Administration, press, gay news, Washington Blade

White House Principal Deputy Press Secretary Josh Earnest has no comment on a judicial nominee with an anti-gay record. (Washington Blade file photo by Michael Key)

White House Principal Deputy Press Secretary Josh Earnest had no comment on Thursday regarding a controversial judicial nominee with an anti-gay record — despite calls from progressive groups on President Obama to take back the selection.

Under questioning from The Huffington Post’s Jennifer Bendery, Earnest professed to have no knowledge of calls to remove Michael Boggs, whom President Obama tapped in December for a seat on the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Georgia.

“I haven’t seen the statements from the groups that you mentioned,” Earnest said. “I’ll see if we can collect some more information and get back to you with a specific reaction.”

Earnest declined comment during the briefing after the White House for more than a week hasn’t responded to the Washington Blade’s request to comment on calls to remove Boggs.

Progressive groups say they’re troubled by Boggs because of his record as a state legislator in Georgia. Among his votes were against removing the Confederate emblem from Georgia’s state flag; in favor of a “Choose Life” license plate that helped fund anti-abortion groups; and in favor of strengthening parental consent laws to require a photo ID and for parents to accompany daughters under the age of 18 to abortion clinics — with no exception for rape or incest.

More relevant to the LGBT rights movement, Boggs in 2004 voted for legislation authorizing the referendum on the constitutional amendment to ban same-sex marriage in Georgia. It’s unclear whether he still holds that position, or, like many other lawmakers, he has since evolved to support marriage equality.

On Thursday, a group of 27 progressive groups — including a trio of LGBT groups, the Human Rights Campaign, GetEQUAL Action, and the National Gay & Lesbian Task Force — wrote to members of the Senate Judiciary Committee to urge them to reject Boggs.

“We believe that Boggs’s record on reproductive rights, civil rights, and LGBT rights is especially troubling in a nominee to the federal bench,” the letter states. “Litigants in Georgia, and the nation as a whole, deserve a judge whose commitment to equal justice is clear.”

A Senate aide said the committee doesn’t have all of the paperwork in for Boggs and hasn’t yet scheduled a confirmation hearing.

Boggs, who received his law degree in 1990 from Mercer University’s Walter F. George School of Law, has since 2012 served as a judge on the Georgia Court of Appeals.

In 2000, Boggs was elected as a Democrat to the Georgia State House, where he held office until 2004. From 2004 to 2012, he was a Superior Court Judge of the Waycross Judicial Circuit of the First Judicial Administrative District of Georgia of the Georgia Superior Court, where he established and presided over the court’s felony drug court program.

Although the Task Force has already called on Obama to recall the nomination, the presence of HRC on the letter is notable because the organization had previously said it was awaiting Boggs’ hearing before making a judgment on the nominee.

Fred Sainz, vice president of communications for the Human Rights Campaign, said he had no comment Thursday on the White House’s continued silence and deferred questions about HRC’s change in position to the letter.

According to The Huffington Post, Obama’s choice of Boggs is part of a package deal struck between the president and Georgia’s two Republican senators, Saxby Chambliss and Johnny Isakson. Four of the six nominees are GOP picks, and just one is black, but the trade-off is that other Georgia nominees in the package will now move forward after years of going nowhere.

Obama faces requests to remove Boggs as he met with black civil rights leaders on Tuesday to discuss issues including criminal justice reform and income inequality.

Asked whether Boggs came up during these discussions, Earnest referred to a White House blog posting on the event without mentioning in the controversial judicial nominee.

“I think there’s a blog post available at whitehouse.gov about the conversations that the president had with those leaders,” Earnest said. “They talked about the Affordable Care Act, and work in communicating to the American public, and particularly to individuals in the African-American community, the potential benefits that are available to them at healthcare.gov, and some of the protections that were put in place for consumers because of the Affordable Care Act. I know they had conversations about some of the ideas to criminal justice reform that the president and the attorney general both discussed. In terms of specifics, I can’t go beyond that, in terms of whether or not a specific judicial nominee came up.”

20
Feb
2014

Obama acts on equal pay, but not LGBT workplace rights

Citizens Metal, Barack Obama, gay news, Washington Blade

President Obama took executive action on equal pay, but hasn’t yet done so on LGBT workplace discrimination. (Washington Blade file photo by Michael Key)

President Obama unveiled executive actions on Tuesday to reduce the gender pay gap in the workforce as he called on Congress to take further action — causing some LGBT rights supporters to scratch their heads over why he hasn’t taken similar steps to address discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity.

Speaking on Equal Pay Day in the East Room of the White House, Obama talked about the need to ensure women receive equal pay for equal work. The president spoke onstage following an introduction from Lily Ledbetter, who became the face of pay inequity after she discovered she received less pay than her male counterparts as a supervisor at a Goodyear plant in Alabama.

“So in this year of action I’ve used my executive authority whenever I could to create opportunity for more Americans,” Obama said. ”And today, I’m going to take action — executive action — to make it easier for working women to earn fair pay.”

One action Obama took aimed at creating more transparency was to sign an executive order prohibiting federal contractors from retaliating against employees who discuss their pay with each other. Additionally, Obama issued a presidential memorandum requiring federal contractors to provide data to the Labor Department about employee compensation.

Asked during the regular news briefing about GOP criticism that Obama took these actions out of political motivation ahead of the congressional mid-term elections, White House Press Secretary Jay Carney said Obama went forward with them “because Republicans are blocking passage of the Paycheck Fairness Act,” legislation to address the pay inequity issue.

“If they wanted to take politics out of it, they should do what the president asked them to do today and pass the Paycheck Fairness Act,” Carney said. “Instead, they are for reasons that I have yet to quite understand, but appreciate, have decided to engage in a debate about whether or not this is the right thing to do.”

But the same situation applies to the Employment Non-Discrimination Act, legislation that would bar employers from discriminating against LGBT workers that passed the Senate on a bipartisan vote last year, but remains stalled in the House. The discrepancy in action has prompted some LGBT advocates to renew their calls on Obama to sign the much sought executive order.

Chad Griffin, president of the Human Rights Campaign, said Obama should immediately follow up on his actions on equal pay with an executive order barring federal contractors from discriminating on the basis of sexual orientation or gender identity.

“President Obama will take a tremendous step today by signing executive orders reducing sex discrimination in federal contracting,” Griffin said. “Issuing these executive orders helps build momentum for Congress to act on paycheck fairness legislation.  The exact same logic applies to the executive order that would afford protections to the LGBT workers of federal contractors. By the stroke of his pen, the president can immediately protect over 16 million workers and pressure Congress to pass ENDA. There is simply no reason for President Obama to wait one second longer.”

It should be noted that Obama’s executive order on equal pay is actually an amendment to Executive Order 11246, which prohibits discrimination on the basis of race, color, religion, sex or national origin. LGBT advocates said this directive could serve as a model for an executive order on sexual orientation and gender identity, or simply be amended to include LGBT workers.

Tico Almeida, president of Freedom to Work, said Obama has an opportunity during an upcoming speech in Texas on the 50th anniversary of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 to follow-up on actions for equal pay with an announcement on action against LGBT workplace discrimination.

“We applaud President Obama for signing this week’s executive orders combating sex discrimination in federal contracting,” Almeida said.  “In fact, the president’s new executive action amends and improves on President Lyndon B. Johnson’s still-functional executive order that has survived for decades through Republican and Democratic administrations.  It’s time for President Obama to keep his campaign promise to the LGBT community by including us in federal contractor workplace protections. His keynote speech on civil rights later this week at the LBJ Library would be a perfect venue to announce another tremendous step forward for LGBT Americans.”

In response to a question from American Urban Radio, Carney declined to preview Obama’s remarks in his upcoming speech in Texas, saying where the president “comes from and where his thinking is” on race is known and that should be reflected in his address.

The White House didn’t respond to the Blade’s request for comment on why Obama took action on equal pay with executive action, but not yet on LGBT workplace discrimination. Numerous times in response to similar inquiries, the White House has said it prefers a legislative approach to addressing LGBT discrimination in the workforce.

Also of note is that Obama issued the executive actions on Equal Pay Day, raising questions about whether Obama is waiting for a similar occasion for the LGBT community, such as Pride month in June, to take action against LGBT workplace discrimination by executive order.

Meanwhile, Obama made the case during his remarks that the equal pay problem is “not just an economic issue,” but about making sure that all Americans have a shot a success — an assertion that supporters of ENDA and an executive order for LGBT workers have been saying about LGBT workplace discrimination for some time.

“It’s also about whether we’re willing to build an economy that works for everybody, and whether we’re going to do our part to make sure that our daughters have the same chances to pursue their dreams as our sons, and whether or not we’re willing to restore to the heart of this country that basic idea — you can make it, no matter who you are, if you try,” Obama said.

08
Apr
2014

Carney silent on Putin’s latest anti-gay remarks

White House Press Secretary, Jay Carney, Gay News, Washington Blade

White House Press Secretary, Jay Carney dismissed question on the anti-gay situation in Russia (Washington Blade file photo by Damien Salas).

White House Press Secretary Jay Carney had no comment on Thursday regarding a series of questions about the anti-gay climate in Russia, saying he had not seen new media reports on which the inquiries were based.

Under questioning from the Washington Blade, Carney had no comment on Russian President Vladimir Putin’s recent remarks that Russia must “clean up” anything that would impair the nation’s birth rate in regards to the anti-gay atmosphere in the country.

“Well, I didn’t see that report,” Carney said. “Our views on this issue and legislation that’s been passed in Russia have been clearly expressed. So I can’t comment on that particular report except that we obviously believe it is very much in the interest of Russia to conduct an Olympics that welcomes everyone.”

Amid calls on President Obama to invoke the Magnitsky Act to freeze the assets of Russian lawmakers who are fostering the anti-gay atmosphere in the country, Carney again professed to have no knowledge of those calls.

“I haven’t seen that report and I don’t have any update on our position on the Magnitsky Act,” Carney said. “But you can be sure that our views about universal rights and specifically LGBT rights are clearly expressed with regards to, whether it’s Russia or elsewhere, actions taken by countries that are in conflict with those principles.”

Russia has come under international scrutiny as the Winter Olympic approach in Sochi because of the reports of the anti-gay climate, especially the recently enacted law barring pro-gay propaganda.

Carney was also unable to say whether President Obama had discussed the anti-gay atmosphere with Putin during a phone call between the two presidents on Tuesday. According to a White House readout of the call, the two talked about Olympics security, Iran and efforts to disarm Syria of chemical weapons.

“I don’t have a further readout beyond what we provided,” Carney said.

Jamie Kirchick, a gay journalist who has urged the Obama administration to employ the Magnitsky Act against those behind anti-gay abuses in Russia, expressed dismay with Carney’s remarks.

“It is sad to see the administration continue to sacrifice America’s national interests — which includes promoting the human rights of all Russians, LGBT ones included — in pursuit of the chimera of improved U.S.-Russian relations,” Kirchick said. “From Syria to gay rights, Putin is spinning circles around us. The administration should answer the queries of those in Congress wanting to know why it failed to name any more Russian human rights abusers to the Magnitsky List.”

24
Jan
2014

Carney: Ariz. anti-gay bill sounds ‘pretty intolerant’

Jay Carney, White House, gay news, Washington Blade

White House Press Secretary Jay Carney (Washington Blade file photo by Damien Salas)

White House Press Secretary Jay Carney was cautious in his response Tuesday when asked about a controversial “license to discriminate” bill in Arizona, saying the legislation sounds “pretty intolerant” without directly expressing opposition to the measure.

Under questioning from NBC News’ Peter Alexander, Carney said the administration doesn’t generally weigh in on state legislation, but the president’s support for LGBT rights is well known.

“Well, my suggestion yesterday that it sounded like a pretty intolerant proposed law, I think, reflects our views,” Carney said. “As a practice, we don’t generally weigh in on every piece of legislation under consideration in the states, but I think the president’s position on equality for LGBT Americans and opportunity for all is very well known. And he believes that all of us, regardless of sexual orientation or gender identity should be treated fairly and equally, with dignity and respect. That view would govern our disposition toward a state law under consideration.”

Now that both chambers of the Arizona Legislature have approved the bill, it comes before Gov. Jan Brewer, who has to decide whether to sign or veto the bill. If enacted, it would expand the state’s definition of exercise of religion to allow businesses and individuals to discriminate based on religious reasons. Critics say the measure is aimed at allowing discrimination against LGBT people.

Brewer was among the attendees in Washington for a meeting of the National Governors Association. Asked whether President Obama spoke with Brewer about the legislation, Carney said he’s “not aware” of any such talks.

Although the White House has yet to articulate direct opposition to the bill, others who have weighed in opposing it include Apple, Inc. and the Arizona Chamber of Commerce. Additionally, the Arizona-based American Airlines has called on Brewer to veto the bill as well as both U.S. senators from the state: Jeff Flake (R-Ariz.) and John McCain (R-Ariz.).

Major LGBT rights groups have refrained from calling on Obama to speak out on the bill. The generally unstated view among LGBT advocates is that vocal opposition to the bill from Obama may actually act as an incentive for Brewer to sign it. The two have a history of hostility, which includes an exchange in which Brewer publicly pointed her finger in his face at an Arizona airport.

As the Blade reported on Monday, Eunice Rho, an advocacy and policy counsel for the American Civil Liberties Union said lawmakers behind legislation like the one in Arizona “don’t care much for what the president says or thinks” on policy matters.

Meanwhile, the Human Rights Campaign is pointing to a “chorus of voices” in a statement that have already denounced Arizona’s controversial proposal as the organization maintains it and similar bills in other states are bad both for civil rights and businesses.

“These bills are bad for business, bad for the LGBT community and bad for all Americans,” said HRC President Chad Griffin. “These bills have nothing to do with faith and everything to do with shameful discrimination. Make no mistake about it; states that do enact these bills into law will face less investment, fewer jobs and a reputation for standing on the wrong side of history.”

25
Feb
2014