FINALLY: LGBT-protecting executive order is announced

Yesterday, it was announced that President Obama would sign an executive order prohibiting employment discrimination in sexual orientation and gender identity by federal contractors against LGBT employees.

Before I go into a critique of how things have gone, it is imperative for the weight of this order to be explained.

ThinkProgress outlines that this is the most sweeping nondiscrimination-related executive order to be put into place since President Johnson’s 1965 signature of Executive Order 11246, which prohibits employment or hiring discrimination by federal contractors on the basis of “race, color, religion, sex, or national origin.” Even President Clinton’s 1998 signature of Executive Order 13087, which prohibits employment discrimination on sexual orientation or gender identity grounds by the federal civil service, does not extend as far as this upcoming Executive Order by President Obama.

This executive order, which will soon have a number, will protect any worker in any state or territory of the United States who works under a private company which has a contract with the federal government, even in the 29 states which don’t have relevant nondiscrimination protections on their books – especially the state of Georgia.

In other words, much of the LGBT population of Georgia will be legally protected from discrimination in the workplace if – and only if – one works in a company which provides contracted services to the federal government. But in the area of Greater Columbus, which surrounds the Fort Benning Army post, this executive order will be a great benefit to the local LGBT community. Doubtless a great deal of companies in this area who have contracts with the federal government or the military will be covered by this order, and LGBT people who work for them will have less of a reason to stay closeted to their coworkers or professional contacts.

While it is very good that this is being drafted into reality, I didn’t really feel like celebrating this development when I read it. This executive order had been demanded by LGBT rights groups throughout the United States for the entirety of the President’s administration, specifically because *something* – ANYTHING in lieu – had to be done when a party-split Congress would prove incompetent at passing this bill. House Speaker John Boehner (R) had flat-out rejected even the idea of ENDA coming to the House floor for a vote, even after the bill passed the Senate with *some* key Republican support.

So…what was to be gained from the ENDA waiting game?

To me, as an LGBT person in Georgia, to expect an incompetent Congress to be pressured into considering this legislation without some form of executive initiative was a case of playing politics with LGBT lives. Don’t do that, Mr. President.

Furthermore, the text of the ENDA bill on allowing broad religious exemptions for employer “objections” (a synonym for bigotry) to LGBT employees has become a point of protest or critique for organizations like Queer Nation and the ACLU. These objections would be allowed to religiously-owned establishments such as universities and hospitals, even though such exemptions would conflict with past jurisprudence on the extension of Title VII’s “sex” clause to sexual orientation and gender identity.

In other words, ENDA is a leaky solution to a dire problem, and seeking for legislative support for the bill when those holes were added by certain politicians to render the bill ineffective against their choice demographics’ most intense bigotries was only another example of how playing politics can screw with individuals’ lives.

But politicians who support both ENDA as well as this order have cited the most expansive presidential initiatives in history – from the Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation (which was technically a “presidential proclamation” with effect only within the Union Army) to Truman’s Executive Order 9981 (desegregating the Armed Forces) – as the basis by which President Obama should lead.

So once again, thanks to the pressure by Freedom to Work, and by voices such as the New York Times editorial board, this order is finally coming to pass. President Obama is finally acting, and #EvolveAlready may have finally brought him to the full extent of his evolution as an advocate-in-chief.

Now – as soon as the President signs this order – the ball will be in Congress’ court. Prohibiting discrimination with few to no exceptions will now be Congress’ responsibility.

But the closet will now be a little bit less necessary for over 28 million workers nationwide, including here in Greater Columbus.

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