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Peter D. Rosenstein

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Obama: LGBT Civil and Human Rights

Posted: 04/12/2012 5:35 pm

When it comes to the LGBT community and our civil and human rights, it is sometimes hard to know what to make of President Obama.

On Wednesday afternoon the White House summoned representatives of the LGBT community to a meeting with Presidential Counselor Valerie Jarrett and other administration officials to tell them that the president was not going to add five simple words, "sexual orientation and gender identity," to an executive order that has been issued for nearly 71 years to prevent discrimination by federal contractors. One would think that shouldn't be such a difficult thing to do. Yet for some reason the Obama White House is agonizing over it.

It is not hard to understand why to some it appears that we have a president who, though always talking the talk, doesn't always walk the walk. We have a president who has undeniably done more for the LGBT community in his administration than any president before. This includes hiring more members of the LGBT community in his administration, signing the Matthew Shepard Hate Crimes Act, and fighting and winning the the repeal of Don't Ask, Don't Tell to allow gays and lesbians to serve openly in the military and fight and die for their country.

But despite these great strides for which we must thank him, he can't seem to summon the courage to make what many would consider the simpler gut choices. These would include his ability to guarantee, with the stroke of a pen, that there will be no more discrimination by federal contractors against the LGBT community, and to finally say he has fully "evolved" and supports civil marriage equality.

The funny thing about his positions on these two issues is that they both seem to backtrack from positions he has taken before. He was for civil marriage equality when he ran for the state legislature in Illinois, according to his signed response to a candidate questionnaire. In a 2010 interview that appeared in The Advocate, in response to a question on ENDA, he said, "Before I answer that question, let me just say there are still a lot of things we can do administratively even if we don't pass things legislatively. So my ability to make sure that the federal government is an employer that treats gays and lesbians fairly, that's something I can do, and sets a model for folks across the board." It is not too much to assume that when the federal government hires a contractor to do something, they are the employer, and this fairness he committed to should apply.

But on Wednesday afternoon he clearly said that that was not the case. In comments after the meeting, some of the leaders of the LGBT community who attended seemed to accept it as a fait accompli when told that the president was not going to sign the executive order guaranteeing an end to discrimination against the LGBT community by federal contractors before the election. The result of that decision is that he opted to continue the state of affairs whereby members of the community can simply be fired for who they are. They continue to have no right to sue under Title VII, which gives others the right to protection from discrimination by federal contractors based on religion, gender, or race.

There will be those in the LGBT community and other Obama supporters who will say, "Don't rock the boat on these issues. Don't attack the president, and just go along with what he and his political advisors think is the best political move, and then hope that once he is reelected, he will come around. Accept a wink and a nod to the future." While that may sound good to some, what does it mean to the person who will lose his or her job without recourse because Obama won't act? What does it mean to the LGBT family whose breadwinner could end up without a job and without health insurance after being fired for just being who he or she is? What does it say about our lobbyists and spokespeople if they just accept that wink and nod and stop fighting for our full civil and human rights for the next seven months, until the election is over, and hope the president will win? Will they all agree to stop taking a salary for the next seven months while they stop fighting on these issues? Will they give up their health insurance if even one person is fired because this executive order hasn't be signed because they gave up fighting for it?

I know this is a conundrum for some. But it can't be a conundrum for anyone who believes that everyone in our nation deserves to have their full civil and human rights, for anyone who believes that when we are not all equal, no one is really equal.

We have only one choice in the upcoming election, and that is to vote for President Obama if we care abut the civil and human rights of the LGBT community. The Republican Party has made it clear that they would like to see many of the rights we have won rescinded. But that doesn't mean we shouldn't continue to press as hard as we can to gain our full civil and human rights, and that means not taking a seven-month hiatus in that fight.