In 2008, then-candidate Senator Barack Obama promised the LGBTQ community an executive order that would protect approximately 20 percent of the American workforce against workplace discrimination based on sexual orientation or gender identity. Many of us hit the streets, knocked on doors, donated money, and voted to elect him as our president — yet this is a promise that remains unfulfilled.
Since then, year after year, the Obama administration continues to use congressional inaction as an excuse to explain why President Obama doesn’t take even the simplest of actions to protect LGBTQ Americans from workplace discrimination. The mainstream press has repeatedly called him out on this inexplicable position, and even hard-nosed DC political reporters remain stumped as to why a supporter of the Stonewall uprising would then stonewall the LGBTQ community.
In the lead-up to this year's State of the Union address, the White House has repeatedly stated that this is a "Year of Action" for the White House — that the Obama administration is tired of waiting on Congress to lead, and will be taking executive action wherever possible to improve the lives of Americans. In fact, White House Press Secretary Jay Carney just said on Sunday:
"I think what we saw last year in 2013 was a Washington that did not deliver for the American people. And the president sees this as a year of action to work with Congress where he can and to bypass Congress where necessary, to lift folks who want to come up into the middle class."
LGBTQ workers cannot wait forever for their piece of the American dream — the simple dream of being judged on our work, not who we love or who we are. President Obama is completely right to name 2014 as the “Year of Action” — unfortunately, many of us are being overlooked by the White House in this effort. The president has the opportunity to take yet another historic step toward a "more perfect nation" — he can lead this nation by signing the executive order to protect LGBTQ federal contractors from un-American and unconstitutional discrimination, instead of waiting on an intransigent Congress to pass the Employment Non-Discrimination Act through the House.
President Obama announced tonight that he will be taking the immensely important steps of raising the minimum wage for federal contractors and increasing opportunities for job training — action steps that are vital for working-class Americans. Though we commend him for his efforts to increase opportunity for low-income workers, the refusal to take executive action specifically to protect LGBTQ workers leaves many out in the cold.
It is clear that the president wants to make LGBTQ issues part of his legacy. But the fact that his administration invited Jason Collins, an openly gay NBA player, to watch the State of Union from the First Lady’s box doesn’t change the fact that millions of LGBTQ workers are depending on President Obama to do more than just give speeches. Mr. Collins’ invitation is not a substitute for policy change.
Mr. President, it’s time to pick up your pen and get the job done.
FELIPE SOUSA-RODRIGUEZ and HEATHER CRONK are co-directors of GetEQUAL.