In separate interviews, two prominent LGBT activists slammed President Obama for refusing to sign an Executive Order "at this time" barring federal contractors from discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity.
Tico Almeida, president of Freedom to Work, was among the LGBT activists in a White House meeting with senior advisor Valerie Jarrett earlier in the week who were told the order would not be signed. He said the White House rationale was “weak,” “shallow,” “unpersuasive” and “embarrassing.” Paul Yandura, a gay former Clinton White House aide and a Democratic strategist, criticized some gay leaders in addition to the president, saying that groups like the Human Rights Campaign (HRC) and the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force (NGLTF), “weren’t advocating on our behalf.”
The refusal to sign the order has been reported as opening up a new rift between Obama and the LGBT community, though it was the White House that seemed to bring more attention to it by calling a meeting of LGBT activists, including the Center For American Progress's Winnie Stachelberg, HRC president Joe Solmonese and NGLTF executive director Rea Carey. The groups had done polling showing overwhelming support for the order, and had presented papers on its potentially positive outcome while lobbying the White House on it for months, only to be told the order would not be signed.
A similar Executive Order preventing discrimination by federal contractors on the basis of race, gender and religion was signed by President Lyndon Johnson in 1965. The White House said instead it would try to rally support in Congress to pass the Employment Non-Discrimination Act (ENDA), though a vote on any gay rights measure is highly unlikely in the GOP-controlled House, and that it would urge the private sector to support non-discrimination.
“It was weak, it was shallow, it was unpersuasive,” said Almeida of White House arguments made against signing the order, appearing on my radio program on SiriusXM OutQ. “It floated back and forth between different reasons. It wasn’t even consistent. There were a few younger, junior staffers who made some arguments that were just laughable. Really embarrassing.”
Almeida believes the rejection of the order is political. He theorized it was caused by “panic” at the White House in an election year, as the issue had suddenly risen above the radar in the media, after two gay men, members of the direct action group Get Equal, planned to confront Obama about it at the annual White House Easter Egg Roll.
In a separate radio interview, Yandura, who helped create Get Equal and has been critical of the White House for what he sees as foot-dragging, agreed: “The [activists at the] Easter Egg Roll was [a] brilliant move. That got the issue into the mainstream press. It got the White House smoked out on this.”
He criticized some gay groups for giving the president a pass on the issue, in the past and now.
“HRC sat on the polling they did [on this issue] from six months ago,” Yandura charged. “It was clear that the groups -- and if you want to say it in positive way -- the groups were trying to give the White House space to do the right thing. I would say they weren’t advocating on our behalf. I was told that everyone had agreed they were going to play an insider game. Well, I think we now as a community can see when you play an insider game, this is what you get.”
“The first email I see come out of NGLTF, after this big meeting that Rea Carey’s in, is a fundraising email,” Yandura continued. “They’ve sent nothing out to their list on this. So, if they’re supposed to be leading on ENDA -- they’re failing. I think we can watch by, 'What are our groups doing now?' Why wouldn’t Rea Carey and Joe Solmonese grow a pair and come out and say ‘I’m not going to stop until you sign this?’”