Op-ed: No, Obama's Executive Order Is Not a (Total) Win

As we celebrate the president's announcement of a nondiscrimination order, let's be realistic too.

BY Rebecca Juro

June 17 2014 3:46 PM ET

So? What do you think? Do you feel any differently now that President Obama has said that he will sign a long-awaited executive order to prohibit discrimination against LGBT employees at companies doing more than $10,000 of business with the federal government in any year?

Yes, it’s a win, but it’s a tough and long-awaited win that should have been a gimme. We didn’t need significant majorities in both houses of Congress voting for this one. All we needed was just one guy to get fully on board to make it happen.

And yet it took that one guy five and a half years to do it.

Why?

It’s the one thing I’ve never understood about Barack Obama and his administration: How can Obama and his spokespeople talk like they fully support LGBT equality but then spend years dragging their feet implementing one of the easiest forms of LGBT progress to bring about? Why wasn’t this executive order signed into law the day after Obama took office? No one seems to know.

Make no mistake, this matters, and it matters a lot.

It matters to every one of the thousands of lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender employees working for federal contractors and their friends, families, and allies who know that their tax dollars will no longer be spent doing business with companies that don’t respect and share their values as Americans.

It matters to the LGBT employees of ExxonMobil, who have seen their equal treatment in the company’s corporate policies voted down by its shareholders 15 times but will now be protected because of this order.

It matters to every single LGBT breadwinner who will soon be sleeping just a little bit better because they’ll know it’s less likely that the paycheck their family depends on to pay the rent, buy groceries, and put gas in the car will be jeopardized due to unjust discrimination and more likely that they’ll be judged in the same merit-based way as their peers.

It matters to the young trans woman, fresh out of college, who wonders if she’ll have the same opportunities her straight and cisgender friends will.

It matters to the gay man who must check himself at work daily, fearing a slip of the tongue could deprive him and his partner of the income they depend on to get by.

It matters to the lesbian couple who live every day afraid that the life they’ve built together could be legally torn away from them if their employer ever discovers they’re more than just roommates.

It’s so little effort on the part of the president to do so much good for so many that it really makes you wonder what took him so long. It’s not about casting shadows on this victory, it’s about questioning why getting a president to use his authority to do something he’s long said he supports should be considered a victory in the first place.

So yes, let’s celebrate. More LGBT American working families will be protected from unjust discrimination in the workplace as a result of this executive order than ever before, and that’s a great thing.

At the same time, though, let’s celebrate with grounded perspectives and open eyes. When a president who ran on a platform that included protecting your civil rights waits until a year and a half into his second term before he’s willing to sign an executive order, that’s not a win.

Speaker Boehner and (most) House Republicans notwithstanding, we’ve already won the Employment Non-Discrimination Act debate culturally. Now it’s about the nuts and bolts of tweaking it into something enough of Congress can live with and get to the president’s desk. It’s not something that’s going to happen in an election year.

Does the executive order change things in Congress? Anything’s possible, but the smart money says ENDA goes nowhere in a GOP-controlled House this session, particularly with an election approaching.

None of this, of course, is news. The administration is as aware of these realities as we are and has known perfectly well that Speaker Bohener would almost certainly not allow ENDA to come up for a vote in the House as long as the GOP is in charge. Yet President Obama chose to wait until GOP control of the House was well into its second session before throwing any sort of lifeline to LGBT working families.

That says something. Something about priorities. Something about values. Something about credibility.

Celebrate, yes. This is a big step. Let’s just make sure we recognize that real allies don’t take five and a half years to remember that we deserve to be treated as equals.

We want it all and we want it now. And we demand political leaders who understand that we are as entitled to that as any American who takes their own civil rights for granted. It’s what being a real progressive is about. Anything less isn’t justice, and it isn’t equality.

 

REBECCA JURO is a journalist and radio host who writes about media for Advocate.com. Her work has been published by The Bilerico Project, The Huffington Post, Washington Blade, and Gay City News. The Rebecca Juro Show streams live Thursdays  from 7 to 9 p.m. Eastern.

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