The Employment Nondiscrimination Act was one of the things 2008 Candidate Obama promised to take action on. He hasn’t. And in a press conference yesterday, Jay Carney’s responses to question about ENDA from the Washington Blade’s Chris Johnson seem to indicate that the possibilities of related WH actions are, at best, uncertain.
From Johnson, Carney unsure if Obama will lobby Congress on ENDA:
White House Press Secretary Jay Carney expressed uncertainty on Monday over whether President Obama will lobby members of Congress to pass the Employment Non-Discrimination Act during his visit this week to Capitol Hill.
Under questioning from the Washington Blade on ENDA, Carney declined to identify the bill as one of the pieces of legislation that Obama would ask Congress to pass – even though he enumerated other measures the president is seeking earlier in the briefing.
In addition to urging Obama to actively support ENDA, there has been a push that he issue an executive order — as an evolving step forward — which would prohibit federal contractors from LGBT discrimination. There has been no WH action on that, either, which is particularly curious, since the president has taken “executive action on behalf of the LGBT community” — filing legal briefs related to DOMA and Prop 8, and “starting the process to offer limited partner benefits for gay service members.”
At the White House “Issues” site, under Civil Rights:
President Obama … continues to support the Employment Non-Discrimination Act and believes that our anti-discrimination employment laws should be expanded to include sexual orientation and gender identity.
The explicit inclusion of “gender identity” is important, since ENDA initially did not do so. It’s been some time since that very important change was made. Candidate Obama, in 2008, began with the “fully inclusive” support.
And as president, I will place the weight of my administration behind the enactment of … a fully inclusive Employment Non-Discrimination Act to outlaw workplace discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity.
This is curious. Obama had to “evolve” to support marriage equality, but regarding something he already supported in his 2008 campaign, he has yet to take any action. Perhaps a part of that is that marriage became “the” issue well before he became president, largely because the “Religious Right” made it so. It was / is much more difficult to avoid that subject than one that has been around since 1974, by way of H.R. 14752, the “gay rights bill,” sponsored by Rep. Bella Abzug and Rep. Ed Koch; or by way of ENDA, since its initial introduction in 1994. All that time, and yet employment protections only occasionally get mainstream media attention.
LGBTs and allies have continued pushing, but unlike marriage and unlike DADT, ENDA is likely still an unknown to many people. I still have conversations with people who are surprised to learn there are no federal employment protections for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender persons.
From the Blade:
Sen. Tom Harkin (D-Iowa) already committed during a Center for American Progress event to hold a committee a vote on ENDA this year. Following the news, the office of Sen. Harry Reid (D-Nev.) told the Washington Blade the majority leader looks forward to scheduling a vote on the legislation.
The Obama administration could help by adding explicit support. Even if the bill is unlikely to pass the House, having the conversation and having votes in both Senate and House are important steps in the process. Johnson quotes Tico Almeida, president of Freedom to Work:
‘It’s long past time to put all 100 Senators on the record on ENDA. … Now that Sen. Reid’s office has told the Washington Blade that they look forward to working with Senator Harkin and others to schedule a vote on the Senate floor after the bill is reported by the committee, it would be an important time for President Obama to publicly challenge both chambers of Congress to vote on ENDA this year.’
And this, also from Almeida:
‘Signing the LGBT workplace executive order is the next logical step, and based on the president’s impressive record, Freedom to Work remains optimistic that he will fulfill this campaign promise soon.’
ENDA will have a direct impact in more lives than DOMA or DADT. And perhaps that’s part of the reason it doesn’t get WH attention. Not only will more LGBTs be involved with employment protection than with marriage equality and military service, but more people in general will be, employers and employees (co-workers). And customers — remember, for a couple of examples, the support of Chick-Fil-A for its anti-marriage equality stance and the condemnation of Penny’s, for its use of gay and lesbian families in advertising. Whatever the reasons, ENDA is apparently easily ignored or avoided.
In addition to those who are surprised that LGBTs have no federal employment protections (and have them only in some states and some cities), there are others who say we need to “be patient.” But 2008 is a few years ago now, when a presidential candidate explicitly identified ENDA as a key concern. And looking at a 1974 — 2013 timeframe, being told to “be patient,” including with Obama, is even more frustrating. As usual, the LGBT and supporters grassroots and organizations are leading the way.
(ENDA image via ACLU)