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Despite Biden’s remarks, no news from Carney on ENDA exec order

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

White House Press Secretary, Jay Carney continues to dodge questions on the ENDA executive order. (Washington Blade photo by Damien Salas)

White House Press Secretary Jay Carney had no announcements on Thursday in response to questions on a potential executive order barring LGBT workplace discrimination among federal contractors in the wake of recent comments from Vice President Joseph Biden that there’s no downside to issuing the directive.

Under questioning from The Huffington Post’s Jennifer Bendery, Carney declined to say whether President Obama agrees there’s no downside to an order prohibiting anti-LGBT bias among federal contractors. Instead, Carney reiterated — as Biden also articulated during the interview — support for the Employment Non-Discrimination Act, saying that would be “the big accomplishment.”

“I don’t have any updates on suggested or proposed executive orders,” Carney said. “What I can tell is that we still call on the House to follow the Senate’s lead and pass the Employment Non-Discrimination Act.”

As part of his response, Carney seemed to address earlier remarks he made — to the consternation of LGBT advocates — that an executive order would be “redundant” with ENDA in place, acknowledging legislation and a directive may serve different functions for certain issues.

“Points have been made, and I think it’s in response to something I said earlier, that it’s clear that executive orders aren’t necessarily completely overlapping with what would be achieved by legislation,” Carney said.

Biden made the comments in an interview with Bendery. Following the briefing, Bendery told the Blade that Biden addressed the directive within a larger interview about sexual assault. Bendery said she didn’t alert Biden’s team ahead of time that she’d ask about the executive order, but did indicate she may ask a question that was off-topic.

Asked by Bendery about why’s there’s reluctance on the part of the administration to issue the executive order, Carney stuck to his response.

“I try not to engage in speculation about any executive action the president may or may not take,” Carney said. “What I can tell you is that there is legislation on Capitol Hill that we strongly support and would like to see passed into law.”

Tico Almeida, president of Freedom to Work, criticized Carney for refusing to affirm there would be “no downside” to an executive order against LGBT discrimination.

“Mr. Carney completely dodged the question because there is no downside to the executive order,” Almeida said. “Vice President Biden is 100 percent right about that. The upside is being on the right side of history and preventing taxpayer money from being wasted on anti-LGBT discrimination.”

Amid speculation that Biden’s remarks would lead to Obama signing the order, much like the vice president’s apparent endorsement of marriage equality preceded Obama’s support, mainstream media showed no interest during the White House briefing about Biden’s saying there’s no downside to the executive order. The only media outlet called on that asked about the directive was The Huffington Post.

That’s different from the news briefing held the day after Biden made his now famous remarks regarding marriage equality on NBC’s “Meet the Press” in 2012. At the time, question after question from the media on Obama’s views on marriage equality made up the preponderance of the 45-minute briefing.

Nonetheless, Carney asserted during the briefing that he welcomes questions on the issue because LGBT workplace discrimination protections are important.

“He answered a question about it, as I have repeatedly,” Carney said. “And I’m happy to. I think this is an incredibly important issue, and I think it’s remarkable how much progress has been made, and remarkable that there is still in existence the progress that remains to be made. That’s certainly the president’s view.”

A transcript of the exchange follows:

Huffington Post: Thanks, Jay. The vice president said yesterday that he doesn’t see any downside to the the president taking executive action on LGBT workplace discrimination. Does the president agree?

Jay Carney: Well, the complete statement was we’re focused on the big accomplishment, which would be passage by both houses of Congress and the signing into law by the president of the Employment Non-Discrimination Act.

You know I think it’s, points have been made, and I think it’s in response to something I said earlier that it’s clear that executive orders aren’t necessarily completely overlapping with what would be achieved by legislation. And I think there’s no doubt the legislation would be a far greater accomplishment, more broadly applied.

And that’s why we continue to push the House to follow the Senate’s lead and pass that because those who oppose it, and I hope, and at least their children will regret the reasons why put forward. Because they sound a lot like the reasons opponents who argued against civil rights legislation in the past year. And they were wrong then and wrong now.

So, I don’t have any updates on suggested or proposed executive orders. What I can tell is that we still call on the House to follow the Senate’s lead and pass the Employment Non-Discrimiantion Act.

Huffington Post: Why is there a reluctance to do something on the executive order if it complements the broader push that you guys really want?

Carney: Again, I just don’t engage in discussion about speculative executive orders. When we, the president, decides to take action using his administrative authorities —

Huffington Post: The vice president speculated —

Carney: He answered a question about it, as I have repeatedly. And I’m happy to. I think this is an incredibly important issue, and I think it’s remarkable how much progress has been made, and remarkable that there is still in existence the progress that remains to be made. That’s certainly the president’s view.

I just don’t — I try not to engage in speculation about any executive action the president may or may not take. What I can tell you is that there is legislation on Capitol Hill that we strongly support and would like to see passed into law.

01
May
2014

Obama’s State of the Union light on LGBT issues

State of the Union, 2014, Barack Obama, United States House of Representatives, United States Senate, U.S. Congress, gay news, Washington Blade

President Obama was criticized by LGBT advocates over his State of the Union address. (Washington Blade photo by Michael Key)

President Obama had few words in his State of the Union speech Tuesday night on LGBT issues, disappointing advocates who had wanted him to address the lack of federal non-discrimination protections for LGBT people.

Devoting a large portion of his speech to income equality, Obama called on on Congress to pass other initiatives — such as a Voting Rights Act, a measure to ensure equal for pay women, immigration reform — and pledged to sign an executive order raising the minimum wage to $10.10 an hour for federal contractors.

“In the coming months, let’s see where else we can make progress together,” Obama said. “Let’s make this a year of action. That’s what most Americans want: for all of us in this chamber to focus on their lives, their hopes, their aspirations.”

LGBT advocates had been pushing Obama to include in his speech a call to pass the Employment Non-Discrimination Act and a pledge to sign an executive order barring federal contractors from discriminating against LGBT workers.

Obama’s continued decision to withhold the LGBT executive order became more pronounced after he promised during his speech to take executive action if Congress doesn’t pass legislation, and enumerated a specific plan to boost the minimum wage through executive order. That raised questions about why he hasn’t done the same for LGBT workers.

“What I offer tonight is a set of concrete, practical proposals to speed up growth, strengthen the middle class, and build new ladders of opportunity into the middle class,” Obama said. “Some require congressional action, and I am eager to work with all of you. But America does not stand still — and neither will I. So wherever and whenever I can take steps without legislation to expand opportunity for more American families, that’s what I’m going to do.”

But Obama’s speech wasn’t completely devoid of any references to the LGBT community. The president identified marriage equality as one of those issues with which the White House is partnering with “mayors, governors and state legislatures” on throughout the country.

Further, he said the administration pursues a robust foreign policy because “we believe in the inherent dignity and equality of every human being” regardless of categories like sexual orientation. Obama also said American values “equality under law” in his speech, which is of importance as courts decide the issue of marriage equality.

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President Barack Obama, Vice President Joe Biden and Speaker of the House John Boehner at the 2014 State of the Union Address. (Washington Blade photo by Michael Key)

Nonetheless, the speech fell short of what LGBT advocates were calling in terms of federal workplace non-discrimination policy, prompting disappointment.

Chad Griffin, president of the Human Rights Campaign, responded the president’s failure to address LGBT issues in his speech with criticism, a striking change in tone from the organization’s usual praise of Obama as a strong LGBT ally.

“The President’s message tonight failed to address the needs of LGBT workers looking for a fair shake in this economy,” Griffin said. “Not only was there no call for the House to pass a federal law to protect LGBT workers nationwide, President Obama also sidestepped his commitment to take action where Congress has left off, leaving out an order prohibiting discrimination by federal contractors.”

Griffin added Obama “missed a real opportunity” to commit in the State of the Union to “executive action to address anti-LGBT discrimination for the millions of Americans employed by federal contractors.”

The absence of ENDA was particularly noteworthy because just months ago, for the first time in history, the Senate approved the measure on bipartisan basis, leaving the House as the only obstacle toward passage.

Although the president made no mention of ENDA during his speech, the White House included the legislation as part of a fact sheet distributed to reporters prior to the address, identifying LGBT non-discrimination as an issue in which the administration is “continuing to work with Congress.”

“Today, federal law prohibits employment discrimination based on race, sex, religion, and disability,” the fact sheet states. “It’s time to add sexual orientation and gender identity to that list, so that no American worker can lose his or her job simply because of who they are or who they love. ”

After noting that the Senate last year passed ENDA by a bipartisan vote, the fact sheet says Obama “renews his call for the House to do the same.”

Others advocates said they would continue to push Obama on the executive order despite the president’s exclusion of the directive from the State of the Union address.

Tico Almeida, president of Freedom to Work, said Obama’s pledge to issue an executive order on minimum wage was “great news” because it means there’s an opportunity for Obama to sign an executive order against LGBT discrimination.

“It’s disappointing ENDA did not make it into the State of the Union,” Almeida said. “But no matter what was omitted from this one address, we can still make 2014 a year of action for LGBT workplace protections by pushing the House of Representatives to allow an ENDA vote and pushing the President to keep his promise of the federal contractor executive order.”

Rea Carey, executive director of the National Gay & Lesbian Task Force, gave Obama mixed reviews after previously calling on Obama to use the word “transgender” and address immigration reform during his speech in addition to LGBT workplace protections.

“The President is right to urge congress to fix our broken immigration system this year, the creation of more jobs, equal pay for women, and the restoration of the Voting Rights Act,” Carey said. “We are also pleased that the President is using his pen like he said he would to move things forward: in this instance by signing an executive order to increase the minimum wage for federal contract workers. However, he must go further and sign an executive order that bans discrimination against the same contract workers who are LGBT.”

Carey noted some of the workers who are set to receive pay raises because of the minimum wage executive order are vulnerable without the executive order for LGBT workplace non-discrimation.

“The irony is that some LGBT federal contract workers will get a pay raise but they could still be fired for who they are and who they love,” Carey said. “The longer the President waits the more damage LGBT people will face; discrimination is a painful reality that is too often the lived experience of LGBT people. The President has to act when Congress won’t.”

Gregory Angelo, executive director of the National Log Cabin Republicans, took issue with the speech as a whole, not simply for Obama’s handling of workplace issues.

“For a moment, I thought the news accidentally re-ran last year’s State of the Union, because all I really saw was more of the same,” Angelo said. “In the midst of a stagnant economy, understated unemployment, and ballooning debt, the only new ideas presented by the President involved using ‘a pen and a phone’ to push a liberal agenda for which hard-working Americans have no appetite.”

Coming off a victory in which Rep. Michael Grimm (R-N.Y.) agreed to sign on as co-sponsor of ENDA, Angelo also chided Obama for his lack of attention in the State of the Union to LGBT non-discrimination in the workforce.

“While the President’s calls for a more equal nation are welcome, there is a profound irony in the absence of any mention of the Employment Non-Discrimination Act for LGBT workers tonight, and likewise in the President’s threat to exercise unilateral Executive actions with the explosive potential to ignite class warfare, while at the same time remaining silent on signing a common-sense Executive Order barring federal workplace discrimination: an empty promise to LGBT Americans that stands unfulfilled after six years,” Angelo said.

Shin Inouye, a White House spokesperson, defended the speech by saying it wasn’t “a comprehensive list of all of the president’s positions or priorities. ”

“The President has long supported ENDA, and its inclusion in our fact sheet reflects the President’s belief that Congress needs to act,” Inouye said.

Among the guests seated behind first lady Michelle Obama in her box during the speech was Jason Collins, a former Washington Wizards center who made headlines last year after coming out as gay.

Following the speech, lawmakers who spoke to the Washington Blade on Capitol Hill said they noted the absence of the ENDA in his speech, but felt assured by the president’s leadership.

Del. Eleanor Holmes Norton (D-D.C.) said she thinks the minimum wage executive order will be a “down payment” on an LGBT directive the president will issue at a later time, but took issue with the lack of any mention of ENDA.

“I would love to have seen a mention, and I don’t think I saw, other than a passing mention of the LGBT community,” Norton said. “I think the way to have done it, frankly, would have been with ENDA, because ENDA is overwhelmingly supported by the American people. It’s already been supported by the Senate. It’s ripe, so I am disappointed that that did not occur, but I’m heartened that he’s going to move, and, frankly, I think we can get ENDA out of here in the next year or two.”

Rep. Mark Takano (D-Calif.), one of seven openly gay members of the U.S. House, said he was confident Obama would take executive action to protect LGBT workers based on his previous actions.

“I tell you, 2013 was one of the gayest years in the history of human kind, and this president has used his executive orders already in how he’s interpreted the Supreme Court decisions, the way he’s applied in the ruling in the Windsor case, in ways that have been very favorable,” Takano said. “He’s done that through executive orders and interpretations, so he’s already used his executive order in the gayest way possible. So, I have hope that he’ll continue to do so.”

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Rep. Mark Takano (D-Calif.) at the 2014 State of the Union Address. (Washington Blade photo by Michael Key)

29
Jan
2014

Carney: Brewer ‘did the right thing’ by vetoing anti-gay bill

Jay Carney, White House, gay news, Washington Blade

White House Press Secretary Jay Carney said Arizona Gov. Jan Brewer “did the right thing” by vetoing an anti-gay bill (Washington Blade file photo by Damien Salas).

White House Press Secretary Jay Carney said Friday Arizona Gov. Jan Brewer “did the right thing” by vetoing a controversial bill that would have enabled discrimination in her state against LGBT people.

In response to question from Sirius XM Radio’s Jared Rizzi, Carney articulated Obama’s support for Brewer’s veto of SB 1062, which would have enabled individuals and businesses to refuse services to individuals — including LGBT people — if engaging in that act violated a person’s religious beliefs.

“As I have noted, we don’t weigh in as a rule on every piece of legislation, but the president does believe that Gov. Brewer did the right thing by vetoing this bill,” Carney said.

Prior to the veto, Carney said the legislation sounds “pretty intolerant,” but didn’t offer full-throated opposition to the measure as no LGBT advocates called on Obama to weigh in. However, following a national outcry, including opposition from business leaders, Republican lawmakers and LGBT advocates, Brewer vetoed the legislation on Wednesday.

Carney’s words mark the first time the White House itself has spoken out on the Arizona bill in the aftermath’s of Brewer’s veto, although Labor Secretary Thomas Perez talked about it Thursday during an interview on MSNBC, saying the legislature’s approval of the measure was “personally baffling” as he renewed the administration’s call for the Employment Non-Discrimination Act.

But as the Daily Beast’s Scott Bixby notes, anti-LGBT discrimination is still allowed in Arizona even in the aftermath of Brewer’s veto. Arizona state law affords no protection to LGBT people either in public accommodations or employment, and no federal protections exist explicitly barring employment discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation or gender identity.

Under questioning from the Washington Blade, Carney said he had no updates when asked if President Obama sees an opportunity to sign a heavily sought-after executive order barring anti-LGBT job bias among federal contractors following the outcry over LGBT discrimination that lead to the Arizona veto.

“I don’t have any update on that matter,” Carney said. “We, of course, hope very much that further action will be taken in Congress on the Employment Non-Discrimination Act, a bill that if it became law would be far more comprehensive in its effect. But, as a general matter — and I said this about the Arizona bill last week — the president believes that all Americans regardless of sexual orientation or gender identity should be treated fairly and equally with dignity and respect.”

Still, Carney went on to acknowledge that the national outcry over the proposed legislation was significant and said Brewer’s veto was symbolic of the country’s progress on LGBT issues.

“And it was gratifying to see Americans from all walks of life, including business leaders, faith leaders, regardless of party, speak out against this measure — and it’s further evidence that the American people fundamentally believe in equality, and it’s time to get on the right side of history,” Carney said. “And as I mentioned before, I think we all note with pride and amazement the progress that this country has made on these issues in recent years, and I think this veto reflects on that progress, and on the sentiment of the American progress.”

When the Blade pointed that an executive order would be a much quicker way to capitalize on the symbolic nature of the veto because the legislative process in Congress would take longer, Carney once again turned to ENDA.

“Again, I don’t have new information to provide to you on a hypothetical executive order,” Carney said. “When I can tell you is we do support legislation that would enshrine in law the non-discrimination approach the president believes is the right approach for the country.”

28
Feb
2014

White House backs efforts on review of trans military ban

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

Press Secretary Jay Carney said the White House backs the Pentagon’s efforts on the military trans ban (Washington Blade file photo by Damien Salas).

White House Press Secretary Jay Carney signaled support on Friday for Pentagon efforts to review the ban on openly transgender service in the military, but stopped short of endorsing an end to the policy outright.

Days after Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel said on ABC’s “This Week” the military trans ban “continually should be reviewed,” Carney said the White House backs his efforts in response to a question on whether President Obama has had any conversations with the Pentagon chief on this issue.

“Well, the president speaks with Secretary Hagel regularly, meets with him weekly,” Carney said. “I don’t have a readout on all his conversations, but I would certainly point you to what Secretary Hagel said and certainly we support his efforts in this area.”

But efforts at the Pentagon to reconsider the policy seem to have already lost traction. A Pentagon official confirmed for the Washington Blade on Friday that no review of the trans military ban has been ordered.

According to the Washington Post, Hagel told reporters en route to Jeddah he’s disinclined to review the Pentagon’s policy formally, but expressed interest in learning more.

“I’ve not asked for a specific task force,” Hagel was quoted as saying. “I’ve not asked for a specific study. I would want to hear more from individuals who are close to this issue, know this issue, who I would value their judgment and their direction on.”

Moreover, Carney didn’t outright say Obama wants to see the ban on transgender service lifted when asked if he thinks the policy should be changed at some point in time.

“I would simply at this point leave it to Secretary Hagel’s comments,” Carney said. “I haven’t spoken to him directly about this issue, but I would note what Secretary Hagel said and that we support him.”

Nonetheless, transgender advocates praised Carney’s words as a commitment from the Obama administration to move forward with a reassessment of the regulatory ban on transgender service.

Mara Keisling, executive director of the National Transgender Center for Equality, was among those praising the White House for endorsing of Hagel’s views.

“It is wonderful to hear that the White House agrees with the Secretary about the need to update these outdated and discriminatory policies,” Keisling said. “There are currently 15,000 trans service members. Having reasonable and modern policies that guide their service is in everyone’s interest and is good for military readiness and national security. Clearly this issue is now on the agenda. Now we need to push for a quick analysis and implementation.”

Instituted sometime before 1980, the ban on transgender service is a medical regulation that, unlike “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell,” could be lifted any time administratively by the stroke of a pen.

17
May
2014

Carney defends absence of ENDA in State of the Union

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

White House Press Secretary, Jay Carney insists Obama continues to support ENDA despite its absence from the State of the Union address (Washington Blade photo by Damien Salas).

White House Press Secretary Jay Carney maintained Wednesday that President Obama continues to support the Employment Non-Discrimination Act despite the lack of any mention of the bill in the State of the Union address.

Carney brought up ENDA as one measure Obama continues to push Congress to send to his desk, as well as comprehensive immigration reform, when asked during a press gaggle aboard Air Force One  about the extent to which Obama can use his executive authority generally.

Although President Obama didn’t mention ENDA or an executive order barring LGBT discrimination among federal contractors during the State of the Union address on Tuesday, Carney said no president articulates “everything he wants done” during the address and Obama’s record on LGBT rights is “crystal clear.”

“When it comes to the Employment Non-discrimination Act, he is fiercely supportive of that effort, enormously gratified by the fact the Senate took action and very hopeful that the House will follow suit,” Carney said. “Because as I’ve said many times, reflecting his opinion, members of the House who block this are being left at the station as the train moves forward on what would obviously be an America where equal rights are extended to all Americans. So I think his record on LGBT rights is crystal-clear, his position is crystal-clear, and he continues to press Congress to take action on ENDA.”

LGBT advocates — most notably the Human Rights Campaign — criticized Obama for failing to include in his address ENDA or the LGBT executive order, saying those measures would have fit well in the speech’s theme of advancing the economy for every American. Additionally, the president’s declaration that would sign an executive order to raise the minimum wage to $10.10 an hour for federal contractors raised questions about why he hasn’t done the same to protect LGBT people from job discrimination.

Although Obama didn’t include a mention of ENDA in his speech, the legislation was included in a fact sheet distributed to reporters prior to the State of the Union address. It said Obama “renews his call for the House” to approve ENDA in the wake of bipartisan passage in the Senate last year.

Despite the White House’s assurance that Obama continues to push for ENDA, passage in the Republican-controlled House faces significant challenges. Just before the transcript of Carney’s remarks were public, the Washington Blade broke a news story that House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) told the LGBT Equality Caucus wouldn’t get done by the year’s end.

The exchange between the reporter and Carney follows:

Q: And on this broad question again of using executive authority, are there particular sectors where you think — having done this assessment — where you think it will be most effective? I mean, obviously you’re very focused on a couple of economic initiatives now, but beyond that, can you just give us a sense of where are the areas where you think the President has the most leverage to do it?

MR. CARNEY: Well, it depends on what kind of use of the pen and the phone you’re asking about. When it comes to executive orders like the one to raise the minimum wage for federal contracts, that depends obviously on analysis of where he has the authority to do things. He has a much broader capacity to lift up and rally support around issues like the need to expand educational opportunity, access to education, or the need to connect skills training to employers.

You saw that with the summit a few weeks ago. You’ve seen it, another use of his authority in the establishment of manufacturing institutes, and he said last night that he intends to create four by the end of the year. And that obviously has enormous beneficial impact on the continued revival of manufacturing in this country.

So I think the opportunities are pretty broad. But we shouldn’t look at what a President can do simply through the prism of what legislation can get passed, nor should we look at what a President can do using the power of his office only through the ability to sign executive orders or presidential memoranda, because another aspect of his office and the authority is not specific to those issues. I want to be clear. This is not — I’m not foreshadowing anything. But obviously, the President did not enumerate everything he wants done and everything he supports in his State of the Union address. No President ever has.

When it comes to the Employment Non-discrimination Act, he is fiercely supportive of that effort, enormously gratified by the fact the Senate took action and very hopeful that the House will follow suit. Because as I’ve said many times, reflecting his opinion, members of the House who block this are being left at the station as the train moves forward on what would obviously be an America where equal rights are extended to all Americans. So I think his record on LGBT rights is crystal-clear, his position is crystal-clear, and he continues to press Congress to take action on ENDA.

More broadly, there is a great opportunity — greater in 2014 than we’ve ever seen — to pass comprehensive immigration reform in a way that meets the principles the President laid out, that reflects the support of one of the most diverse coalitions you’ve ever seen behind legislation, including business and labor, law enforcement, faith communities, Republicans and Democrats around the country. And we are hopeful and optimistic that the House will follow the Senate’s lead and this year pass comprehensive immigration reform.

The President has made clear that the way to address this issue is through a bill that takes action on security, on making sure everybody is playing by the same set of rules, on reforming our legal immigration system to make sure that all those super-smart people from around the world who come and study in our universities are able to stay here and start businesses in America so that the jobs of the future are here, and that creates a process by which the 11 million undocumented people in America are able to get in line and attain citizenship.

So we remain, as the President said, hopeful and optimistic that there is progress on this important matter. I think Congress will act.

30
Jan
2014

Why doesn’t outrage over Arizona translate to ENDA support?

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Will U.S. House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) take note of Arizona Gov. Jan Brewer‘s veto of an anti-gay measure and bring up ENDA? (Washington Blade photo of John Boehner by Michael Key; photo of Jan Brewer by Gage Skidmore courtesy of Wikimedia Commons)

Within one week, national outrage over anti-LGBT discrimination was able to kill a controversial “turn away the gay” bill in Arizona, but almost 40 years after an early version of the Employment Non-Discrimination Act was introduced in Congress, the bill still hasn’t become law.

The unprecedented firestorm of opposition leading to Arizona Gov. Jan Brewer’s veto of SB 1062 raises questions about why that energy can’t be harnessed to institute federal protections against the discrimination the legislation would have enabled.

The outcry among LGBT advocates, Republican lawmakers, faith groups and the media against the Arizona bill was widespread. The legislation would have allowed any person — which under the bill could be an individual, a religious assembly or business — to deny services based on a religious belief.

Among Republicans, Sens. John McCain (R-Ariz.) and Jeff Flake (R-Ariz.) urged a veto of the measure. They were followed by surprise calls to reject the measure from former Republican presidential contenders generally known for their opposition to LGBT rights: former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney and former U.S. House Speaker Newt Gingrich.

On the business side, the Arizona Chamber of Commerce opposed the legislation as well as corporate tech giants Apple and Intel. Major companies based in Arizona — U.S. Airways and retailer PetSmart — also called on Brewer to veto the bill. The National Football League even weighed in and, according to a report in Sports Illustrated, reportedly considered moving next year’s Super Bowl XLIX out of Phoenix if the measure became law.

Scott Wooledge, a gay New York-based netroots advocate who sought to get major U.S. companies on the record against SB 1062, said he thinks the “broad and vague” language of the bill is what triggered the massive outcry among businesses.

“Individuals could assert under Arizona law that they have the right to fire their gay subordinate,” Wooledge said. “They could say you hired me and I have this gay executive assistant, and I’m firing him because he offends my religious liberty. What would Intel do under this situation because that would be a violation of their company policy, and their own employees would have the force of law behind them?”

But other religious exemption bills that would enable anti-LGBT discrimination have advanced without as much outcry. In Kansas, the state House approved a measure specifically aimed at allowing businesses to refuse services for weddings. Despite media reports that the measure is dead, at least one advocate on the ground has said he expects action soon in the Senate.

In Mississippi, the Senate passed legislation, SB 2681, which would give businesses a license to discriminate against customers based on personal religious beliefs that is under consideration in the House. Although LGBT advocates have spoken out against these measures, the level of outcry isn’t the same as in Arizona.

A number of observers who spoke to the Washington Blade pointed out an obvious distinction: SB 1062 managed to reach the governor’s desk while others haven’t made it that far.

Lanae Erickson Hatalsky, director of social policy and politics for the Third Way, also said Arizona has a special distinction because it has a reputation for passing controversial bills, such as SB 1070, which allowed law enforcement to ask individuals perceived as being immigrants for registration documents before the measure was struck down by the U.S. Supreme Court.

“Folks in Arizona are particularly sensitive about their state getting a bad rap and losing business after the anti-immigrant legislation caused such an uproar,” Erickson Hatalsky said. “This bill was similarly poorly written and would’ve allowed a parade of horribles that made it easy to convince businesses and the public that it was a bad idea, especially on top of that current sensitivity about the state’s reputation.”

But the situation in Arizona was striking not just for the outcry over the legislation, but the wall-to-wall coverage from national mainstream media on the bill on networks like MSNBC and CNN.

As Media Matters notes, even Fox News, which has a reputation of shilling for conservatives, aired commentary from conservative analysts in opposition to the bill. Andrea Tantaros, co-host of “The Five,” compared the bill to the racist Jim Crow laws in the South and said she doesn’t know why “you would want to bring Jim Crow laws back to the forefront for homosexuals.”

Cathy Renna, a New York-based public affairs specialist, said the media coverage of the Arizona bill is part of a trend of growing attention to LGBT rights amid rulings from the U.S. Supreme Court on marriage equality.

“We obviously cannot turn on the TV or look at any website, or if people still flip through newspapers, not seeing a story about this,” Renna said. “It’s almost impossible, and it’s creating a whole new level of conversation about the issue of discrimination, and I think it’s really showing how we have a ton of momentum that’s come a long way, but we still have a lot that we need to do.”

Turning Arizona outrage to ENDA

But if a bill that would have enabled discrimination against LGBT people inspired so much angst, why isn’t that same energy helping to advance measures that would protect against this kind of discrimination, at least in employment, at the federal level?

John Aravosis, editor of AMERICAblog, said the distinction is the Arizona bill was a negative anti-gay measure that could have been enacted by Brewer’s signature within a week, and it’s harder to muster the energy to pass a positive law that can be constantly delayed.

“If the president had a week to decide and then ENDA would be dead forever, people might be a little more engaged, and there might be a little more pressure on him,” Aravosis said. “But the negative is always better reality in playing to the grassroots than the positive. It shouldn’t be, but it is.”

Not helping matters is a misconception that federal protections against LGBT people in the workplace are already in place. According to a YouGov/Huffington Post poll made public in October, 69 percent of Americans incorrectly believe firing someone for being gay or lesbian is illegal.

It’s that kind of false understanding that Erickson Hatalsky said makes people satisfied with the status quo and unwilling to make changes to law as other issues surrounding LGBT rights move quickly.

“If they don’t see a huge problem happening in front of them, they say, ‘Whatever the law is, it must be working,’” Erickson Hatalsky said. ”So that really plays to our benefit when it’s an overly broad religious liberty attack like the one in Arizona. It does exactly the opposite when we’re trying to pass affirmative non-discrimination.”

Amid the national outcry over the Arizona bill, President Obama has remained unwilling to sign an executive order barring LGBT discrimination among federal contractors.

White House Press Secretary Jay Carney instead touted the importance of ENDA when asked last week for an update on the directive in the aftermath of the Arizona veto, saying the legislative approach “would be far more comprehensive in its effect.” Still, Carney acknowledged the broad opposition to the Arizona bill.

“And it was gratifying to see Americans from all walks of life, including business leaders, faith leaders, regardless of party, speak out against this measure — and it’s further evidence that the American people fundamentally believe in equality, and it’s time to get on the right side of history,” Carney said.

But Congress has shown no signs of moving forward. Months after the Senate approved ENDA by a bipartisan 64-32 vote, U.S. House Speaker John Boehner held a meeting with the LGBT Equality Caucus and threw cold water on the bill, either saying there’s “no way” ENDA would come this session or it’s “highly unlikely.” Still, those in attendance see an opportunity for a bill to come up after Election Day during the lame duck session of Congress.

Seeking discharge petition, Paul Ryan’s help

The effort to link the discrimination that would have been allowed under the Arizona bill to the need to pass ENDA is daunting, but something observers say can happen.

Wooledge said the situation over the Arizona bill was different than the effort to enact federal workplace protections because there was a singular focus, a veto, and a singular target, Brewer. If supporters settled on a discharge petition as the method to pass ENDA in the House, Wooledge said, the results would be similar.

“I have full confidence that the progressive coalition that coalesced around SB 1062 would do a very similar campaign to persuade legislators both Democratic and Republican to sign the discharge petition, but they don’t want to do that,” Wooledge said. “Human Rights Campaign has never called for a discharge petition, never has the [National] Gay & Lesbian Task Force, so if our own 800-pound gorillas of advocacy don’t want a discharge petition, then Nancy Pelosi is not going to want a discharge petition.”

For Erickson Hatalsky, Arizona demonstrated the importance of having Republican, business and faith leaders on board with an LGBT measure, and said those efforts should continue with ENDA. One way, she said, is getting  Republican star Rep. Paul Ryan (R-Wis.), who voted for ENDA in 2007, to vocalize renewed support.

“I think we’ve only had Jeff Flake and John McCain and those other Republican senators on ENDA for a few months,” Erickson Hatalsky said. “That was a huge step that we’ve taken in the past year, so we just have to keep building on it and make the case to John Boehner that it’s in his best interest to get on board.”

Instead of the Arizona bill, Aravosis said supporters of federal non-discrimination protections should look to the path that led to repeal of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell,” when gay discharged troops brought their stories to the media.

“With ENDA, if we had stories coming out every day, gays in the military…been screwed again today, we’d probably be more successful,” Aravosis said. “That’s the battle to compare it to because we had stories almost every day of these nice people losing their jobs. The folks getting paid to do ENDA are not putting out those stories every day.”

The extent to which national LGBT organizations will draw on the controversy to advance ENDA isn’t yet clear. Freedom to Work didn’t immediately respond to the Washington Blade’s request for comment.

Dan Rafter, spokesperson for the Human Rights Campaign, said his organization intends to carry the outrage over the Arizona bill to the table in engagement over ENDA.

“Bills like SB 1062 illustrate how vulnerable LGBT people remain when it comes to facing discrimination – be it in their workplace or their communities,” Rafter said. “But the backlash to the bill, including from Republicans and big business, illustrates the incredibly broad support for workplace protections. We are absolutely going to continue elevating that message as we work to build support for ENDA in the House by continuing our engagement with members all across the country.”

Rea Carey, executive director of the National Gay & Lesbian Task Force, said in a statement to the Blade the veto of the Arizona bill itself demonstrates the time has come for Congress to act on ENDA.

“America is against discrimination but the public thinks protections are already in the law,” Carey said. “The effort to successfully reject ArizonaÂčs SB 1062 spotlights the lack of federal LGBT anti-discrimination legislation, sends a clear  message that extremism is totally unacceptable to people of all political persuasions, and highlights the urgent need for the House to take up and pass ENDA.”

01
Mar
2014

Harvey Milk honored at White House as stamp unveiled

Harvey Milk, Stuart Milk, USPS, United States Postal Service, Nancy Pelosi, John Lewis, Tammy Baldwin, Ronald Stroman, Samantha Power, gay news, Washington Blade

The Harvey Milk stamp was unveiled in a ceremony on Thursday. (Washington Blade photo by Michael Key)

The cost of the new stamp commemorating Harvey Milk is 49 cents, but for those who attended a White House event Thursday unveiling the prize for philatelists and LGBT rights supporters alike, the legacy of the gay rights pioneer is priceless.

That was the sentiment expressed by the nine speakers at a two-hour White House event celebrating Milk, who won election as a San Francisco Supervisor in 1977, becoming one of the first openly gay people in the country to hold public office.

Stuart Milk, a gay nephew of Harvey Milk and president of the Harvey Milk Foundation, said his uncle never sought  to achieve an honor such as being on a stamp, but knew the importance his shattering of a glass ceiling in 1977 would have for gay people 36 years later.

“He did see this day because he dreamed it,” Milk said. “It’s what gave him the strength to go into work with death threats, and to remain loud and remain with that call that we have to come out.”

Anne Kronenberg, co-founder of the Harvey Milk Foundation, worked on Harvey Milk’s campaign for supervisor and said she’s excited that his image would appear on people’s mail throughout the country.

“I find it a little bit ironic in a wonderful way that during his campaign, we didn’t have enough money for postage,” Kronenberg said. “One beautiful brochure that we put together, we couldn’t get it out. We relied on our volunteers to get it out to our constituents.”

The U.S. Postal Service made the decision to mint the Harvey Milk Forever stamp as a result of a national campaign led by the San Diego City Commissioner — despite reported opposition from social conservative groups and some members of the Citizens Stamp Approval Committee.

The event took place on May 22, 2014, which would have been Harvey Milk’s 84th birthday; he was assassinated in 1978 by Dan White, who was acquitted of murder and instead convicted on voluntary manslaughter charges.

Although Harvey Milk predicted his own death, Stuart Milk said his uncle hoped that event — and the later acquittal of White — would pave the way for the judicial system to grant equality for LGBT people. Such a vision would be consistent with recent court rulings striking down same-sex marriage bans in Oregon and Pennsylvania.

“It was a wake-up call, and, I think, today we can say we heard it,” Staurt Milk said. “It was truly Uncle Harvey’s dream that we could see a different paradigm resulting from both his assassination and that equally mean-spirited verdict. He hoped our justice system could be moved to not only uphold the rights of LGBT people, but to live free from violence and scorn, and maybe our justice system could even uphold the equality principles for our Constitution.”

The highest ranking member of the Obama administration at the event was U.S. ambassador to the United Nations Samantha Power, who drew a connection between Obama and the legacy associated with Milk.

“I get to work for a president who is identified with two words: hope and change,” Power said. “But it is hard to think of words that more succinctly describe Harvey Milk the leader, the activist, the fighter, the elected official. Hope and change is about a deeply held and proud American tradition: a tradition of toil to ensure the triumph of progress; a tradition of love winning out over fear. Hope and change.”

Gautam Raghavan, the White House public engagement adviser and LGBT liaison, acted as unofficial emcee for the event. He said Milk would have welcomed the honor bestowed on him given his belief in being out.

“I wish he could have grown old and seen the legacy of the hope that he breathed into so many of our lives,” Raghavan said. “And I think he would have liked being a stamp because he knew the best way to change hearts and minds was for people to get to know us.”

Power also alluded to the administration’s support for passage of the Employment Non-Discrimination Act when talking about recent gains for the LGBT community, including the drafting of Michael Sam by the St. Louis Rams.

“While we now do live in an age where the National Football League has, for the first time, drafted an openly gay man, we still live in an age where the National Football League can fire him for being gay,” Power said. “Postage stamps will not change that. Legislation will.”

Other speakers at the event included Evan Low, a gay city council member from Campbell, Calif.; Ronald Stroman, deputy postmaster general; and Torey Carter, chief operating officer for the Gay & Lesbian Victory Institute.

House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) repeated her often-told narrative of the legislative process for repeal of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell,” giving Obama credit for making it happen, but also remembered the death of Milk in 1978 before she was elected to Congress.

“I was thinking that day, ‘Is this how it ends? It this how it ends?’” Pelosi said. “But it really was the beginning, a sad sacrifice to pay, but it was the beginning of so much. And you all know what it is. I don’t need to elaborate.”

Pelosi said that Milk continues to be honored 36 years after his death because he believed in the “fundamental American value of equality” and “cared about the rights of everyone.”

Rep. John Lewis (D-Ga.), a black civil rights leader in the 1960s and one of the lawmakers who voted against the Defense of Marriage Act in 1996, said Milk’s fight and the fight for racial equality are one and the same.

“The activism for Harvey Milk came of age during the last social revolution in American history,” Lewis said. “It was a revolution of values and ideas that started in 1955 in the American South and gave rise to other movements in America. Good trouble, necessary trouble, that’s what Harvey Milk got involved in.”

Lesbian Sen. Tammy Baldwin (D-Wis.) attributed her success at being elected to the House in the 1990s and becoming the first openly gay person elected to the Senate to the election of Harvey Milk.

“It’s incredible to look at a time when running for San Francisco supervisor as an openly gay man seemed like a revolutionary act,” Baldwin said. “Harvey knew that. He welcomed the attention. He weathered the insults. He shoved off the death threats. And it wasn’t to satisfy his own ambition, but rather to answer the call he felt to move the cause of equality forward.”

Saying more work needs to be done on civil rights, Baldwin also recalled the controversy over the Sam kiss upon his entry into the NFL, saying we heard the “peanut gallery” of conservatives complain about how they’re supposed to explain that to their nine-year-olds.

“We live in country where most nine-year-olds could probably explain that kiss to their parents without batting an eye,” Baldwin said. “They understand what love is. They understand what fairness is. America is ready to take more steps forward, but it’s going to take more acts of courage and conviction, like the ones that made Harvey Milk a hero.”

A significant portion of the event was dedicated to international LGBT rights as an emerging issue.

Power noted that progress has been made on the international stage, such as by passage of a U.N. resolution in support of LGBT rights, but other countries have fallen backward.

“Hope is about envisioning a world where leaders do not target their most vulnerable citizens with laws that criminalize their existence, as is true, now, in 76 countries around the world, including Nigeria and Uganda, where new legislation, further targeting LGBT individuals, was signed into law earlier this year,” Power said. “Change is about standing up to them when they do. And under President Obama we have.”

Stuart Milk also acknowledged relationships between gay people are still criminalized under law in one-sixth of the world.

“Their very existence is now illegal just because of who they love, just because of who they are,” Milk said. “We cannot allow the backwards march in Asia, in Africa and Eastern Europe. We can’t allow it.”

Among the estimated 150 people attendees seated at the event were gay Rep. Mark Pocan (D-Wis.); gay Rep. Mark Takano (D-Calif.); Democratic National Committee chair Debbie Wasserman Schultz; National Gay & Lesbian Task Force Executive Director Rea Carey; gay businessperson Mitchell Gold and gay New Hampshire Democratic Party Chair Ray Buckley.

Obama did not attend. At the same time the ceremony was taking place, Obama was speaking at an event at the National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum in Cooperstown, N.Y.

22
May
2014

Carney riled by questions on ENDA executive order

Jay Carney, White House, gay news, Washington Blade

White House Press Secretary Jay Carney had a testy exchange with the Blade over the ENDA executive order (Washington Blade file photo by Damien Salas).

White House Press Secretary Jay Carney had few answers on Friday about a heavily sought executive order from President Obama barring LGBT workplace discrimination during an exchange with the Washington Blade that ended testily.

Responding to the Blade report that House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) told the LGBT Equality Caucus there’s “no way” the Employment Non-Discrimination Act would get done this year, Carney said when asked if it’s time for the federal contractor executive order that House leadership often brings up bills even after making such declarations.

“I would simply say that that is the wrong approach,” Carney said. “The president strongly supports the Employment Non-Discrimination Act. He believes strongly and knows that it’s the right thing to do. I would suggest that there have been occasions when leaders in the House have declared something won’t happen, and it happens anyway. And we certainly hope that’s the case here.”

UPDATE: In a subsequent tweet, Carney clarified that he was referring to the speaker’s remarks as the “wrong approach,” not the executive order.

President Obama continues to withhold the executive order as LGBT advocates say the directive is a campaign promise from his 2008 president campaign.

Asked whether the president shares the view the executive order is a campaign promise, Carney dodged.

“I can simply tell, you, Chris, I don’t have any updates for you on the issue of a hypothetical executive order for LGBT non-discrimination for federal contractors,” Carney said. “We’re focused right now on the legislation, which, again has made progress in Congress and we’re going to keep pushing on it.”

The exchanged ended with Carney calling on another reporter in the White House briefing room without responding to the final question from the Blade.

A partial transcript of the exchange follows:

Washington Blade: Thanks, Jay. The Washington Blade reported this week that Speaker Boehner told the LGBT Equality Caucus there’s “no way” the Employment Non-Discrimination Act will get done this session. Given that forecast from the speaker, is it time for the president to sign an executive order to protect LGBT workers from discrimination?

Jay Carney: Well, I would simply say that that is the wrong approach, and the president strongly supports the Employment Non-Discrimination Act. He believes strongly and knows that it’s the right thing to do. I would suggest that there have been occasions when leaders in the House have declared something won’t happen, and it happens anyway. And we certainly hope that’s the case here.

Blade: But if the president is saying he “strong supports” the legislation, and the president is saying there’s “no way” the bill is coming up, so what will it take for the president to sign that executive order?

Carney: Chris, you know, we’ve talked about this a lot. The president believes that an Employment Non-Discrimination Act signed into law is the right way to go here. And we strongly support, and put a lot of energy behind that effort. I don’t think a lot of people predicted it would pass the Senate, but it did, and one person’s opposition to it in the House does not dissuade us from pressing for its passage, and its arriving on the president’s desk so he can sign it into law. We’re going to keep pushing on that.

Blade: LGBT advocates who are pushing for that executive order say it’s a campaign promise from the president. Is that a view the president shares?

Carney: I can simply tell, you, Chris, I don’t have any updates for you on the issue of a hypothetical executive order for LGBT non-discrimination for federal contractors. We’re focused right now on the legislation, which, again has made progress in Congress and we’re going to keep pushing on it.

Blade: In an apparent 2007 questionnaire —

Carney: I want to give others —

Blade: — one last question in. In an apparent 2007 questionnaire to the Houston GLBT Political Caucus signed by then-candidate Obama, the president was asked if he supports for a formal written policy against LGBT discrimination for federal contractors. The response was simply “yes.” How is that not a campaign promise?

Carney: Chris, I’ve answered this question. We believe that right way to go is to pass legislation that applies to everyone that enshrines in law the equal rights that the Employment Non-Discrimination Act spells out. So, I don’t have an update for you on the other issue —

Blade: So you’re disputing the assertions of the president’s supporters on this issue?

Carney: Cheryl.

NOTE: Although the Blade stated during the White House briefing the apparent questionnaire response was from 2007, it was actually dated in 2008.

31
Jan
2014

Carney reiterates support for ENDA

Jay Carney, White House, gay news, Washington Blade

White House Press Secretary Jay Carney had no comment when asked about an ENDA executive order. (Washington Blade file photo by Damien Salas)

Amid continued calls for administrative action on behalf of LGBT federal workers, White House Press Secretary Jay Carney reiterated President Obama’s support for ENDA but didn’t directly address the proposed executive order barring LGBT workplace discrimination.

Asked by the Washington Blade about the letter lawmakers are circulating on Capitol Hill urging Obama to sign the directive, Carney suggested Congress should focus on passing the Employment Non-Discrimination Act.

“Our view is that Congress ought to pass the Employment Non-Discrimination Act,” Carney said. “I don’t have any updates for you on possible executive orders, what we’re focused on is on a legislative remedy that would be more comprehensive and has already seen progress in Congress. So, I don’t have a view to express on that particular issue.”

The LGBT Equality Caucus and Sen. Jeff Merkley (D-Ore.) are circulating a missive on Capitol Hill urging Obama to sign the order as part of his proposed “Year of Action” in 2014. A source familiar with the letter said the opportunity to sign onto the letter would close out at the end of Monday.

Here’s the Q&A:

Washington Blade: The LGBT Equality Caucus and Sen. Jeff Merkley are circulating a letter on Capitol Hill calling on President Obama to sign an executive order protecting LGBT workers from discrimination. Does the president want to see supporters of that action like the lawmakers behind this letter to continue encouraging him to sign it?

Jay Carney: Our view is that Congress ought to pass the Employment Non-Discrimination Act. I don’t have any updates for you on possible executive orders, what we’re focused on is on a legislative remedy that would be more comprehensive and has already seen progress in Congress. So, I don’t have a view to express on that particular issue.

10
Mar
2014

Obama proclaims June as Pride month

Barack Obama, ENDA, United States of America, Democratic Party, gay news, Washington Blade

President Barack Obama

President Obama will host a reception at the White House commemorating June as the month of Pride on June 30, the Washington Blade has learned.

“On Monday, June 30, President Obama will host a reception at the White House in celebration of LGBT Pride Month,” a White House official said. “Additional details about the event, including media access, will be released at a later date.”

The White House has hosted a Pride celebration in which President Obama has spoke each year thus far over the course of both terms of his administration. It’ll be the sixth time a Pride celebration has taken place at the White House.

On the same day the White House disclosed this information, Obama issued his annual proclamation designating June as the official month of Pride. This year, amid victory after victory in favor of marriage equality in the courts, Obama takes special note of the advancement of progress through the states.

“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,” Obama says. “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.”

It’s also the first Pride proclamation in which Obama has mentioned the U.S. Supreme Court ruling against the Defense of Marriage Act. Last year’s Pride proclamation came out just one month before the historic ruling against the ban on federal recognition of same-sex marriage.

“Last year, supporters of equality celebrated the Supreme Court’s decision to strike down a key provision of the Defense of Marriage Act, a ruling which, at long last, gave loving, committed families the respect and legal protections they deserve,” Obama says. “In keeping with this decision, my Administration is extending family and spousal benefits — from immigration benefits to military family benefits — to legally married same-sex couples.”

Obama also notes that LGBT workers can still be fired in “too many states” because of their sexual orientation or gender identity, but calls for passage of the Employment Non-Discrimination Act as opposed to saying anything about a much sought-after executive order baring LGBT discrimination against federal contractors.

“Despite this progress, LGBT workers in too many States can be fired just because of their sexual orientation or gender identity; I continue to call on the Congress to correct this injustice by passing the Employment Non-Discrimination Act,” Obama says.

Further, Obama takes note of growing concern over international LGBT rights, saying human rights abuses against LGBT people overseas is “unacceptable.”

“Our commitment to advancing equality for the LGBT community extends far beyond our borders,” Obama says. ”In many places around the globe, LGBT people face persecution, arrest, or even state-sponsored execution. This is unacceptable. The United States calls on every nation to join us in defending the universal human rights of our LGBT brothers and sisters.”

Concluding his proclamation, Obama recalls the Stonewall demonstrations in New York City that started the annual Pride celebrations happened 45 years ago this year.

“This month, as we mark 45 years since the patrons of the Stonewall Inn defied an unjust policy and awakened a nascent movement, let us honor every brave leader who stood up, sat in, and came out, as well as the allies who supported them along the way,” Obama says. “Following their example, let each of us speak for tolerance, justice, and dignity — because if hearts and minds continue to change over time, laws will too.”

30
May
2014