37 Democratic Senators Urge Obama Order on Job Bias

Thirty-seven Democratic senators have signed a letter to President Barack Obama urging him to issue an executive order in reaction to lack of progress on the Employee Non-Discrimination Act (ENDA) in the Republican-controlled House. The executive order would bar federal contractors from discriminating based on gender identity or sexual orientation. Pressure for such action has been building for more than a year, with 72 House Democrats issuing a similar letter in April 2012.

Senator Jeff Merkley of Oregon, the lead ENDA sponsor, initiated the February 14 letter from him and his colleagues.

Last spring, Obama received flak for not moving on the order — while watching ENDA languish in the House— but at least some advocates working on the issue said they never expected the president to act prior to the November election. Mara Keisling, executive director of the National Center for Transgender Equality, expressing confidence Obama would eventually move, told Gay City News, “The answer from the White House was not ‘no,’ it was ‘not now.’”

The Democratic senators, frustrated over the intransigence on the House side, clearly believe the president has the maneuvering room to act now. A recent poll commissioned by the Human Rights Campaign found that 73 percent of Americans support an executive order barring discrimination against LGBT employees by federal contractors. Freedom to Work, a Washington advocacy group working on the executive order issue, secured 175,000 signatures in an online petition urging White House action.

The senators’ letter emphasizes that non-discrimination is a sound business practice, already supported by the majority of the top 25 companies with federal government contracts.

“By expanding protections for LGBT employees of federal contractors, you would be helping to ensure that all Americans get an equal opportunity to succeed and that federal taxpayer dollars are used to support companies with the best employment practices,” the letter said.

In response to the letter, the White House reiterated the president’s support for ENDA, but made no comment on the executive order question.