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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.


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.”


W.H. adviser says ENDA executive order ‘under consideration’

White House adviser John Podesta says the ENDA executive order is "under consideration." (Screenshot via Bloomberg News).

White House adviser John Podesta says the ENDA executive order is “under consideration.” (Screenshot via Bloomberg News).

In a departure from previous public comments from the Obama administration, White House counselor John Podesta said on Friday an executive order barring LGBT discrimination among federal contractors is “under consideration.”

During an interview with Bloomberg News’ Al Hunt, Podesta made the remarks when asked if President Obama would issue a heavily sought-after executive order prohibiting federal contractors from discriminating on the basis of sexual orientation or gender identity.

“Well, what he said in the State of the Union was he was going to require federal contractors to pay a minimum wage of $10.10,” Podesta said. “The order that you’re talking about is under consideration at the White House. We’re looking at that.”

Asked by Hunt what Obama is likely to do, Podesta said, “Well, you know, I’m not going to prejudge that.”

Podesta’s assertion the executive order is “under consideration” is consistent with an email from Democratic National Committee Treasurer Andy Tobias leaked to the Washington Blade in June in which he said a “process” is holding up the directive. It’s also consistent with a one-time statement from White House spokesperson Shin Inouye that the administration “continue[s] to study the issue.”

When questioned about Podesta’s remarks on Saturday, Inouye repeated the more familiar refrain that the administration has no updates on an executive order.

“We continue to urge Congress to pass ENDA,” Inouye said. “We have no further updates on this issue.”

While LGBT advocates continue to scratch their heads over why Obama hasn’t issued the executive order and maintain the directive is one of his campaign promises, Podesta couldn’t identify a reason to withhold the order when pressed by Hunt.

Saying the administration continues to push for passage of the Employment Non-Discrimination Act — legislation that would bar LGBT discrimination in the workforce — Podesta maintained the White House wants to see “whether that’s possible.”

“I think the argument against doing it — there is no real argument against non-discrimination in the workplace,” Podesta said. “I think the question is we’ve been putting the forward the effort to get a comprehensive ENDA through the Congress. We’ll see whether that’s possible.”

Tico Almeida, president of Freedom to Work, welcomed the comments from Podesta, but said the time for consideration of the executive order is over.

“It’s great to hear Mr. Podesta say that the LGBT executive order is still under consideration at the White House, and I know that many LGBT organizations plan to keep pushing until this long overdue campaign promise becomes a reality,” Almeida said. “But I don’t think there’s anything left to study or consider: both Republican and Democratic presidents before President Obama have signed orders banning discrimination at federal contractors and they’ve always been upheld in the courts. This order fits perfectly with the White House plans for a ‘year of action,’ and the time to sign is now.”

Podesta, who recently joined the White House staff as counselor after serving as president for the Center for American Progress, has a reputation for supporting executive action for U.S. presidents. 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 as well as to improve education, health care and security.

The assertion the executive order is “under consideration” contradicts statements from the White House that the directive is “hypothetical” in nature. On the same day Podesta made the remarks, White House Press Secretary Jay Carney characterized the directive as “hypothetical” when questioned by the Blade.


Carney quiet on St. Patrick’s Day parades, trans military service

Jay Carney, White House, gay news, Washington Blade

White House Press Secretary Jay Carney has no comment on boycotts of St. Patrick Day’s parades or transgender military service. (Washington Blade file photo by Damien Salas)

White House Press Secretary Jay Carney had no comment Monday about two issues in the news: decisions to boycott St. Patrick’s Day parades over LGBT exclusion and lifting the ban on openly transgender service members in the U.S. military.

Carney said he hasn’t spoken to President Obama about boycotts of parades in New York City and Boston — including by the mayors of those cities — as a result of organizers prohibiting LGBT contingents from identifying themselves as such during the march.

“The president does oppose discrimination, but I haven’t talked to him about boycotts of those parades,” Carney said.

The Blade also asked Carney why President Obama would act to freeze the assets of Russian officials connected to the country’s military incursion into Ukraine, but not take the same step for lawmakers responsible for Russia’s anti-gay laws. Carney said the actions taken against Russia with respect to Ukraine “are focused on the very real violation of Ukraine’s sovereignty and territorial integrity that we’ve been talking about.”

As reported by the Blade, Yelena Mizulina, a sponsor of the controversial anti-gay propaganda law and state Duma deputy, was actually among those whose assets were frozen. The White House deferred comment on whether her authorship of the law contributed to Obama’s decision to freeze her assets to the Treasury Department. [UPDATE: A Treasury Department official said Mizulina's connection to the anti-gay law didn't contribute to Obama's decision to freeze her assets and she was sanctioned "because of her status as a senior Russian government official."]

With regard to a recent Palm Center report saying there’s “no compelling medical reason” to continue prohibition of openly transgender service members in the military, Carney deferred to the Defense Department. Lt. Cmdr. Nate Christensen, a Pentagon spokesperson, said ”there are no plans to change the department’s policy and regulations which do not allow transgender individuals to serve in the U.S. military.”

The brief transcript of the Q&A follows:

Washington Blade: Lots to talk about. On St. Patrick’s Day, a number of beer companies announced they wouldn’t sponsor parades in New York City and Boston as Mayors Bill de Blasio and Marty Walsh announced they would boycott the ones in their own cities because LGBT contingents were allowed to identify themselves as such during the march. Does the president believe those boycotts were the right decision?

Jay Carney: I haven’t spoken to the president about those boycotts.

Blade: You said before the president opposes discrimination. Wouldn’t that principle apply to those parades here?

Carney: The president does oppose discrimination, but I haven’t talked to him about boycotts of those parades.

Blade: On Russia. If the president will impose sanctions on officials connected to military incursion into Ukraine, why hasn’t he done the same for the officials responsible for the anti-gay laws in Russia, say by freezing their assets under the Magnitsky Act?

Carney: We’ve made our views abundantly clear about that kind of legislation and about efforts to undermine the civil rights of Russian citizens, but the actions we’ve taken today and the sanctions that have been announced today are focused on the very real violation of Ukraine’s sovereignty and territorial integrity that we’ve been talking about.

Blade: And lastly, the repeal of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” enabled openly gay people to serve in the U.S. military, but transgender people are still barred because of medical regulations. Last week, an independent commission led by a former U.S. surgeon general issued a report saying there’s no compelling medical reason to [continue] this ban and called on the Commander-in-Chief to lift it. Will the president direct the Pentagon to lift the ban on transgender service?

Carney: I don’t have anything on that. I’ll have to direct you to the Pentagon at this point.


250,000 expected for Capital Pride weekend

Capital Pride, gay news, Washington Blade

The 39th annual Capital Pride Parade and Festival will be held this weekend. (Washington Blade file photo by Michael Key)

More than 250,000 people from the D.C. metropolitan area and the Mid-Atlantic region are expected to participate in the 39th Annual Capital Pride Parade on Saturday and the annual Capital Pride Festival on Sunday.

The parade and festival in recent years have served as the grand finale to a month of LGBT Pride-related events in the nation’s capital, including the annual Black Pride, Trans Pride, Youth Pride and Latino Pride.

As D.C.’s largest LGBT community event of the year, Sunday’s Pride festival was to include entertainment from nationally recognized headline performers, hundreds of booths representing LGBT organizations and LGBT-friendly groups and businesses, including corporate sponsors.

Several federal and D.C. government agencies were scheduled to set up booths at the festival, including LGBT employee groups with the FBI and the CIA. At least four D.C. government agencies, including the Office of Human Rights and the D.C. Department of Insurance, Securities and Banking reserved space for booths.

Although the White House isn’t participating in the parade or festival, President Barack Obama submitted an official letter of recognition, which is published in the Pride Guide, Capital Pride’s official publication.

“For generations, courageous lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) Americans have spoken up, come out, and blazed trails for others to do the same,” the president wrote in his letter. “Festivals like Capital Pride bring opportunities to reflect on hard-won progress and the work before us still to forge a more just Nation,” he said.

Among the 170 floats and contingents set to participate in the parade, Capital Pride organizers say they are especially proud that for the first time ever, a U.S. Armed Forces Color Guard contingent was scheduled to march in the parade. The contingent was scheduled to perform its traditional presenting and retiring of the “colors” or U.S. flag at the start and end of the parade.

“We are very pleased that we asked and the Department of Defense agreed to provide us with a Color Guard,” said Bernie Delia, chair of the Capital Pride board of directors.

“It’s a wonderful step forward for everyone involved – for the country, for those LGBT members of the military,” he said. “I think it is a fantastic development for everyone.”

Former Minnesota Vikings player Chris Kluwe, an LGBT ally, was scheduled to serve as grand marshal for the parade.

Similar to past years, the festival on Sunday will be held on Pennsylvania Avenue, N.W., between 3rd and 7th streets, with the U.S. Capitol as a backdrop to the main stage.  The festival exhibit hours are from noon to 7 p.m.

As a new feature this year, events on the main “Capitol” stage, including a dance party, will continue until sunset at about 9 p.m., according to an announcement by Capital Pride.

Among those scheduled to appear on that stage throughout the day were headliner performers Rita Ora, Karmin, Bonnie McKee, Betty Who and DJ Cassidy.

“We’re looking forward to an absolutely wonderful weekend,” Delia said. “We’ve got a phenomenal lineup for the entertainment on Sunday. And we’re thrilled that Chris Kluwe is our grand marshal for the parade.”

The parade was scheduled to kick off Saturday, June 7, at 4:30 p.m. at its traditional starting point of 22nd and P streets, N.W. Similar to last year, it will travel east on P Street to Dupont Circle, where it winds around the circle to New Hampshire Avenue and heads to R Street, where it will turn right on 17th Street.

With thousands of spectators expected to line 17th Street, where several gay bars and restaurants are located, the parade will pass along 17th Street then turn left on P Street, where it will travel past the official reviewing stand at 15th and P.

From there, the parade will continue along P Street to 14th Street, where it will turn left and travel north to its endpoint at 14th and R streets, N.W.

According to information released by Capital Pride, the lesbian group Dykes on Bikes of Washington, D.C. was designated as the lead contingent of the parade. Contingents of the Metropolitan Police Department of D.C., the D.C. Fire and Emergency Medical Services Department, the Arlington County Police gay and lesbian liaison division and George Mason University Police were scheduled as the next contingents.

D.C. Mayor Vincent Gray and at least eight members of the D.C. City Council, including Council Chair Phil Mendelson (D-At-Large) and mayoral candidates David Catania (I-At-Large) and Muriel Bowser (D-Ward 4), were scheduled to lead their own parade contingents.

And at least eight candidates running for seats on the D.C. Council as well as Virginia State Sen. Adam Ebbin (D-Alexandria), who’s running for a U.S. House seat, were scheduled to participate in the parade.

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6 hints that ENDA exec order may be coming

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

White House Press Secretary, Jay Carney insists an executive order for LGBT workers is “hypothetical” (Washington Blade photo by Damien Salas).

If you tuned into his daily news conferences, you might get the sense from White House Press Secretary Jay Carney that the administration isn’t actively considering an executive order that would bar federal contractors from discriminating against LGBT workers.

One word that Carney often uses to describe the much sought directive is “hypothetical.”

That’s the word he used on Thursday when asked about the latest piece of evidence the order may be forthcoming — White House counselor John Podesta’s assertion on Bloomberg TV  that the executive order is “under consideration.”

“I don’t have any updates on that hypothetical EO; I can tell you that we strongly support action by the House in keeping with what the Senate did to get the Employment Non-Discrimination Act passed into law,” Carney said.

Speaking more to the point of Podesta’s assertion about an LGBT directive, Carney said “we look at and consider a lot things,” which neither confirms nor denies the directive is being discussed in the West Wing.

Instead, Carney took the opportunity to highlight President Obama’s support for ENDA, legislation that would bar employers from discriminating against or firing LGBT workers.

“If you look at the data on this issue — and specifically on the Employment Non-Discrimination Act — I think it is overwhelmingly demonstrated that this has the support of the American people across the country,” Carney said. “And as I’ve said again and again, this is — history is moving on this issue in the right direction, and opposing these kinds of things means finding yourself on the wrong side of history.”

The Senate passed ENDA on a bipartisan basis in September by a 64-32 vote. But the bill has seen no movement in the House, where Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) has continually said he opposes it. Last week, the Washington Blade reported that Boehner told the LGBT Equality Caucus there’s “no way” ENDA will get done this year.

Carney’s characterization of the executive order as hypothetical is riling at least one LGBT advocate, Freedom to Work’s Tico Almeida, who continues to say the directive is anything but hypothetical.

“There was nothing hypothetical about President Obama’s campaign promise to the LGBT community that he would take executive action to combat workplace discrimination at federal contractors,” Almeida told the Blade. “We’ll keep pushing until these workplace protections become a reality. It’s long past time to sign.”

It’s not the first time in recent memory the White House referred to the order as hypothetical. Just last week, he referred to the order as “hypothetical” in response to questioning from the Blade that ended testily.

After the conclusion of the briefing on Thursday, the Washington Blade shouted out to Carney: If the executive order were under consideration would you say so publicly? The White House spokesperson gave no response.

Evidence exists the White House is internally engaged in a process that would likely lead to President Obama signing the executive order. The Washington Blade has identified six hints the order is forthcoming despite the lack of updates in the White House briefing room.

1. Podesta’s comments the executive order is ‘under consideration’

The stongest evidence is Podesta — a known proponent of U.S. presidents taking executive action from his previous work heading the Center for American Progress  — unequivocally saying just last week the LGBT executive order is “under consideration” when asked about it by Bloomberg News.

“Well, what he said in the State of the Union was he was going to require federal contractors to pay a minimum wage of $10.10,” Podesta said. “The order that you’re talking about is under consideration at the White House. We’re looking at that.”

Asked by Bloomberg what Obama is likely to do, Podesta said, “Well, you know, I’m not going to prejudge that.” Podesta said there’s no good case for workplace discrimination.

2. DNC Treasurer e-mail saying ‘process’ holding up directive

Along those lines is an e-mail from Andy Tobias, treasurer of the Democratic National Committee, to LGBT donors on an off-the-record listserv indicating everyone in the administration is in favor of the executive order and the only thing holding it up is a “process.” The email, dated May 30, 2013, was leaked to the Washington Blade last year.

“I have spoken to people in an attempt to understand better myself what the delay is — and to lobby for its getting done,” Tobias wrote. “Those people have left me satisfied that our frustration is heard, that the hold-up is not staffers who oppose our rights but a process that is broader than just this one very important and long delayed agenda item.”

Tobias, who’s gay, indicates later in the email he’s convinced the order will happen at some point, noting other LGBT achievements and saying, “But they got done and this will get done too.“

3. White House continues to ‘study’ issue

In April 2012, when Senior Adviser to the President Valerie Jarrett met with LGBT advocates and told them the executive order wouldn’t happen at this time, one media report suggested forward movement was still happening.

ThinkProgress published a piece quoting Winnie Stachelberg, vice president of external relations at the Center for American Progress, saying instead of issuing the order the White House Council of Economic Advisers “will launch a study to better understand workplace discrimination.”

When asked about that quote by the Washington Blade close to the one-year anniversary of that meeting, White House spokesperson Shin Inouye said, “We continue to study the issue.” Sources familiar with the meeting said Jarrett didn’t say CEA would conduct the study, but noted there are multiple approaches and gave CEA as an example.

The White House has since declined to give more detail on the nature of the study — such as its purpose or whether it’s being done as a formal commission or an informal examination — nor say when it’ll be complete.

4. Obama’s 2008 campaign promise

LGBT advocates — including at Freedom to Work and the Human Rights Campaign — continue to say President Obama promised to sign the executive order when competing against Hillary Clinton for the Democratic nomination for president.

Their evidence it’s a campaign promise: an apparent 2008 questionnaire from the GLBT Houston Political Caucus that emerged in 2012 during Obama’s re-election campaign. Although it says nothing explicit about an executive order, Obama was asked if he supports a formal written policy against LGBT discrimination for federal contractors. The response was simply “yes.”

The White House has dodged when asked to comment on whether the president believes the order is a campaign promise. Noel Freeman, current president of the caucus, told the Blade he’s unable to verify the authenticity of the questionnaire.

5. Labor, Justice departments OK exec order: sources

Back when the idea of an executive order was gaining ground prior to the 2012 election, sources close to the administration told the Blade the Labor and Justice departments had green-lighted the directive, saying it could be implemented if the president signed it.

U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder is slated to give the keynote address at the Human Rights Campaign’s gala in New York City on Saturday. The content of his speech is thus far under wraps, but given the Justice Department’s work on this issue, it’s not outside the realm of possibility that he’ll make an announcement regarding the executive order.

6. Obama saying he’ll use his pen if Congress fails to act

The last piece of evidence suggesting an order may be forthcoming: President Onama’s declaration during the State of the Union address that he’ll take executive action if Congress refuses to act on his agenda.

“America does not stand still — and neither will I,” Obama said. “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.”

Obama has already acted on this threat by pledging to sign an executive order requiring federal contractors to pay employees a minimum wage of $10.10 an hour.

Given the media attention on the LGBT executive order, it stands to reason that issuing the order if Congress doesn’t move forward with ENDA has crossed Obama’s mind.


Nearly 200 lawmakers seek action from Obama for LGBT workers

Steny Hoyer, Maryland, United States House of Representatives, gay news, Washington Blade, Democratic Party, U.S. Congress

House Minority Whip Steny Hoyer (D-Md.) was the highest-ranking congressman to call for the ENDA executive order. (Washington Blade photo by Michael Key)

As legislation to protect LGBT workers from discrimination continues to languish in the U.S. House, an unprecedented number of nearly 200 lawmakers on Tuesday — including members of House Democratic leadership — called on President Obama to take administrative action.

In a letter dated March 18, 148 House members and 47 senators — making for a total of 195 lawmakers — urged Obama to sign an executive order barring federal contractors from discriminating on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity as part of his plan for a “Year of Action” in 2014.

“As we continue to work towards final passage of the Employment Non-Discrimination Act (ENDA) with strong bipartisan support, we urge you to take action now to protection millions of workers across the country from the threat of discrimination simply because of who they are or who they love,” the letter says. “We are committed to doing all that we can in Congress to get ENDA to your desk this year; however, there is no reason you cannot immediately act by taking this important step.”

The letter says “time is of an essence” for a signature on the executive order because even when that happens, a process that “will take many months, if not longer” to implement the directive fully will be necessary.

In the House, the letter was circulated by the LGBT Equality Caucus along with Reps. Frank Pallone (D-N.J.) and Lois Capps (D-Calif.), while ENDA’s chief sponsor in the Senate Jeff Merkley (D-Ore.) circulated the letter in that chamber with Sens. Tammy Baldwin (D-Wis.) and Tom Harkin (D-Iowa).

It’s not the first time members of Congress have penned their names to a letter calling on Obama to take administrative action to protect LGBT workers from discrimination. In 2011, Pallone and Capps led an effort to sign a similar letter, which at the time was signed by 72 House members. In 2013, they circulated another letter on the issue signed by 110 House members as Merkley submitted yet another missive signed by 37 senators.

The series of letters from lawmakers over the course of recent years — in addition to regular questioning on the issue for White House Press Secretary Jay Carney — have been to Obama on the executive order as LGBT advocates have pressed for it for some time.

But the latest missive has more lawmakers calling for the executive order than the 2013 letter and, for the first time, has members of Democratic leadership as signatories: House Minority Whip Steny Hoyer (D-Md.) and Assistant Minority Leader Jim Clyburn (D-S.C.). The Blade first reported Hoyer would sign the letter on Monday.

Although House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi has publicly said she supports the executive order as far back as 2011 she didn’t sign the letter. Drew Hammill, a Pelosi spokesperson, said his boss rarely signs group letters and would raise the issue in a private missive to Obama.

Also missing from the letter is Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.), who also gave his green light for the potential directive in January. Reid’s office indicated that he doesn’t typically sign member letters.

Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz (D-Fla.), chair of the Democratic National Committee, also didn’t pen her name to the letter. Last week, sources told the Blade she had discouraged members from signing previous iterations of the letter, but her office called that assertion a “bald-faced lie.” She hasn’t articulated support for the executive order.

Not a single Republican signed the letter. Not one of the 10 Republicans who voted for the Employment Non-Discrimination Act in the Senate late last year or any of the six GOP co-sponsors of ENDA in the House penned their name to the missive.

Tico Almeida, president of Freedom to Work, said his organization helped to secure signatures for the letter — and hopes it’ll be the last time the effort is necessary.

“This week, we collaborated with the Equality Caucus for the third time to collect signatures on the 2014 letter to President Obama on the same topic,” Almeida said. “These year-after-year delays from the White House are making this all start to feel like Bill Murray’s ‘Groundhog Day,’ and I really hope we don’t have to push for yet another congressional letter to President Obama in 2015 or 2016 or a letter to President Hillary Clinton in 2017. It’s long past time for President Obama to keep his word and create LGBT workplace protections at the companies that profit from taxpayer-funded contracts.”

The White House has responded to other letters like this one in the past by saying it has no updates to provide on a “hypothetical” executive order protecting LGBT workers. It didn’t respond to comment on the latest letter.

Last week, Carney reiterated Obama’s support for the Employment Non-Discrimination Act when asked about the executive order.

“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 that has already seen progress in Congress. So I don’t have a view to express on that particular issue.”

Lawmakers who organized the signature-gathering for the letter in both the House and Senate issued their own words on the importance of Obama signing the executive order.

Merkley said signing the executive order would help ensure LGBT people have access to equal opportunity in the workplace.

“All Americans deserve fairness in the workplace,” Merkley said. “There is no reason to wait any longer to extend non-discrimination policies to federal contractors and protect millions of Americans from being fired for who they are or who they love.”

Capps said in a statement she hopes Obama “will immediately sign an executive order” to protect LGBT workers against discrimination.

“This issue has lingered for far too long and this year, in the president’s year of action, he should take this opportunity to expand employment protections,” Capps said. “Doing so would be a significant and meaningful advancement for LGBT Americans—legally, politically, and culturally. With workers across the country facing discrimination every day, the time is now to make sure workplace discrimination isn’t supported by taxpayer funds.”

As Capps observes, the Williams Institute published a report finding that the executive would extend non-discrimination protections to the estimated 16.5 million employees at federal contractors. (The number of people within this population who are LGBT is estimated to be smaller and between 400,000 and 600,000 people.)

Capps added that she been pushing Obama to sign the executive order for years and “will not stop pushing this issue — it is time for the president to act.”


White House: Need legislation to extend certain benefits to gay couples

The White House

The White House held a a meeting Thursday with LGBT advocates (Washington Blade file photo by Michael Key).

After making new benefits available to married same-sex couples throughout the course of the year following the U.S. Supreme Court decision against the Defense of Marriage Act, the Obama administration made clear on Friday that a change in law is needed to recognize these unions for the purposes of certain Social Security and veterans spousal benefits.

A White House official told the Washington Blade that the Justice Department will announce on Friday it has concluded its year-long review of the historic decision.

Further, the administration will announce federal laws that look to the state of residence instead of the state of celebration to determine whether a couple is married “preclude the federal government from extending benefits to legally married couples regardless of where they currently live,” the official said.

That means, under current law, certain Social Security and veterans benefits won’t be available to married same-sex couples if they wed in one state, but move to one of the 30 states without marriage equality and apply for the benefits there.

The administration’s determination that it must withhold these benefits despite the Supreme Court’s decision against DOMA stands in contrast to the numerous other benefits it has afforded to married same-sex couples regardless of whether or not they live in states that recognize their marriage.

These benefits include recognition of same-sex married couples for federal tax purposes; the ability of bi-national same-sex couples to apply for marriage-based green cards; spousal employee benefits for federal workers and U.S. service members; and requiring insurers to recognize same-sex marriages if they offer spousal coverage.

One more change is set to be announced on Friday. The Department of Labor is set to issue a notice of proposed rulemaking on the Family & Medical Leave Act, clarifying an employee is eligible for leave to care for a same-sex spouse — even if the couple lives in a non-marriage equality state.

The rule builds off an earlier announcement in August in which the Labor Department indicated married same-sex couples were eligible under the FMLA, but that development only applied to couples living in states with marriage equality.

And even though the administration is set to announce it won’t be able to enact similar policy for Social Security and veterans benefits, there will be some limited workaround.

For veterans benefits, one administration official said veterans in same-sex marriages who live in a non-marriage equality state will be able to 1) transfer GI-Bill education benefits to dependents; 2) access group life insurance and family insurance group life insurance programs; 3) be eligible for spousal survivor education benefits.

Earlier this month, the Department of Veterans Affairs issued a new rule that will provide burial benefits to same-sex couples in domestic partnerships or civil unions. It may have been the first time the federal government has recognized these unions for the purposes of federal benefits.

For Social Security, the administration official said if a married same-sex couple applies for benefits in a marriage-equality state, but moves to another state that doesn’t recognize the marriage, the agency won’t withhold benefits based on the place of residence standard during or after the application process.

Further, the official said same-sex couples living in states with domestic partnerships or civil unions, but not marriage equality, would be eligible for Social Security benefits. For the time being, that would impact couples in Colorado, Wisconsin and Nevada.

But for anything further, Congress would need to pass legislation. The administration is calling on Congress to pass legislation along these lines to address the issue, the White House official said.

The Respect for Marriage Act, sponsored by Rep. Jerrold Nadler (D-N.Y.) in the House and Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) in the Senate, has a “certainty” principle that would ensure the federal benefits of marriage would flow to married same-sex couples regardless of where they live.

The Social Security & Marriage Equality Act, introduced by Sen. Patty Murray (D-Wash.), would affects issues related to Social Security benefits, while an amendment introduced by Sen. Jeanne Shaheen (D-N.H.) and Mark Udall (D-Colo.) along the lines of the Charlie Morgan Act would address veterans benefits.

One other solution to the problem could be another ruling from the U.S. Supreme Court instituting marriage equality throughout the country. As litigation continues to percolate through the judiciary, a final ruling from the Supreme Court on the marriage issue is expected by the middle of next year.

The administration is announcing these developments just after a meeting at the White House on Thursday in which LGBT advocates were invited to discuss the planned executive order barring anti-LGBT discrimination among federal contractors and the implementation of the Supreme Court decision against DOMA.

[UPDATE: The Justice Department formally announced in the form of a memo from U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder to President Obama it has concluded its review of the DOMA ruling. Download the memo here.

“The implementation of the Windsor decision across the entire federal government is an accomplishment that reflects countless hours of hard work, cooperation, and coordination across agencies," Holder said in a statement. "As additional issues arise, we will continue to work together to uphold this Administration’s fundamental commitment to equal treatment for all Americans, and to extend this fundamental equality to all Americans.”]


Carney on Michael Sam, Russia, DOJ announcement

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

White House Press Secretary Jay Carney addressed Michael Sam, Russia and Eric Holder’s announcement on Monday. (Washington Blade file photo by Damien Salas).

White House Press Secretary Jay Carney on Monday responded to the multiple LGBT news stories that broke over the weekend, including Missouri defensive lineman Michael Sam’s decision to come out as gay.

In addition to inquiries about Sam, Carney over the course of his regular briefing fielded questions on Russia’s handling of the Olympics and U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder’s announcement extending rights to married same-sex couples.

In the aftermath of Sam’s decision to come out as gay and potentially be the National Football League’s first out player, the Associated Press’ Julie Pace asked if the president had any response.

Carney said he had nothing to provide directly from Obama other than to say his views are in line with the support that first lady Michelle Obama and Vice President Joseph Biden expressed on Twitter.

“I have nothing specifically from the president at this time except to say that he shares the sentiments expressed by the first lady and the vice president and so many others in marveling at his courage, and congratulating him on the decisions he’s made, with the support he’s had from his team, and wishing him well in the future, including in professional football,” Carney said.

Asked to comment on the talk that coming out would impair Sam’s chances of finding a team, Carney said any player should be judged on his performance.

“Without having this be a reflection of the conversation with the president, I can tell you that in general that it is his view it should not have an effect,” Carney said. “Any athlete’s abilities should be measured by what — in a traditional way in terms of how he or she performs in the sport, and on the field in this case. And in this case, his performance has been exceptional.”

Following Sam’s announcement that he is gay, he fell 70 slots on CBS’ draft prospect board overnight. He’s now listed at 110, although CBS had him at 160 the next morning.

When the Washington Blade noted during the briefing that President Obama called NBA player Jason Collins on the phone last year after he came out, but apparently didn’t do the same for Sam, Carney replied, “I just don’t have any updates for you on the president.”

Asked by the Blade why Obama would reach out to Collins when he came out, but not Sam, Carney would neither confirm nor deny a phone call will take place.

“I don’t have anything on the president’s schedule right now,” Carney said.

With regard to Russian LGBT protests during the Olympics, Carney said in response to a Blade question the administration has already expressed its views on the crackdown against those in Russia.

“I think broadly speaking in terms of the matter of LGBT rights in Russia, the president has been very clear,” Carney said. “I think he was clear in his interview with Bob Costas at NBC on the evening of the opening ceremonies. So, we strongly express our views when it comes to any crackdown on those who are expressing their opinions peacefully, but I don’t have anything specific with regards to the games themselves on these matters, and our views on that matter haven’t changed.”

According to a tally in the New York Times, at least 61 individuals on the first day of the Olympics were arrested nationwide in Russia for protesting. At least 10 were arrested for demonstrating in favor of LGBT rights and say they were subjected to harsh treatment by police, including threats of sexual assault.

On Thursday, President Obama said in an interview with NBC News “there is no doubt” he included openly gay people as part of the U.S. delegation to the Olympics to demonstrate the United States doesn’t abide by discrimination, including on the basis of sexual orientation.

Also coming up during the briefing was Holder’s announcement that the Justice Department would extend additional rights to married same-sex couples, such as the ability to file jointly for bankruptcy and refuse to testify against a spouse in the wake of the Supreme Court ruling against the Defense of Marriage Act.

Calling the change a “substantive policy decision,” Fox News’ Ed Henry noted that Holder pledged the Justice Department would extend benefits to married same-sex couples to the furthest extent possible across the country, even in non-marriage equality states, and asked for the president’s views.

“I would refer you to the Department of Justice for specifics of that,” Carney replied.

But maintaining the announcement was “a pretty important policy announcement from the administration” Henry asked how important this policy decision was to the president.

“That American citizens enjoy equal rights?” Carney replied. “Pretty important. Profoundly so.”

Arguably as evidenced by the question from Fox News, the announcement from Holder received criticism from conservative groups and significant attention from mainstream media outlets, some of which referred to the change as “sweeping.”

Asked by the Blade if the administration was surprised by the media reaction, Carney refused to characterize the response.

“I don’t have a characterization to make about the coverage or the reaction except to say the president believes every American ought to be afforded equal rights, and he certainly supports that instance of his view, or actions taken that reflect his view in this case,” Carney said.


No updates from Carney on ENDA directive, despite pressure

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

White House Press Secretary Jay Carney had no updates on an ENDA executive order. (Washington Blade file photo by Damien Salas)

Despite a letter this week signed by nearly 200 congressional Democrats calling on President Obama to take administrative action on behalf of LGBT workers, White House Press Secretary Jay Carney had no updates Wednesday on a potential executive order barring anti-LGBT discrimination among federal contractors.

Under questioning from the Washington Blade, Carney reiterated the position he’s stated numerous times that Obama is focused on passing the Employment Non-Discrimination Act through Congress as a means to protect LGBT workers.

“The fact is that legislation, which has moved in the Senate, if it were to be passed by the full Congress and signed into law would have the greatest benefit when it comes to ensuring the rights of LGBT individuals,” Carney said.

A partial transcript follows:

Washington Blade: Thanks, Jay. The president yesterday received a letter from nearly 200 members of Congress — right up to House Democratic Whip Steny Hoyer — calling on him to “immediately act” by signing non-discrimination executive order for LGBT workers. You said before this issue is best left to Congress, but if this many lawmakers are lobbing back to the president, has he misjudged the situation?

Jay Carney: Chris, we continue to support ENDA, the Employment Non-Discrimination Act, and I don’t have any update for you on possible executive orders. The fact is that legislation, which has moved in the Senate, if it were to be passed by the full Congress and signed into law would have the greatest benefit when it comes to ensuring the rights of LGBT individuals. On the issue of — that you ask me about regularly — of an executive order proposed, or speculated about, I just don’t have any updates.

Blade: But what makes you think that legislation should be the only course of action if lawmakers in Congress are saying that the president should issue an executive order as they pursue legislation?

Carney: Again, Chris, I just don’t have any new information to provide to you about our views on this, which we have discussed many times. There is no question, I think, in anyone’s mind that the passage of legislation, the Employment Non-Discrimination Act, would provide those protections broadly in a way the EO would not.

And as I’ve said before, opposition to that legislation is contrary to the tide of history and those lawmakers who oppose this will find, in the not too distant future, that they made a grave mistake and that they will regret it.

Blade: One last very important question on this. The letter takes note that “time is of the essence” because after an executive order is signed, full implementation will require a process that last many months, if not longer. Do you deny there’s a limited time for the president to exercise this option before time’s up at the end of his administration?

Carney: Chris, I’m not even sure there’s a question there, but I’ll point you to my previous answer.