One of my favorite writers, teachers and social justice prophets is Benedictine Sister Joan Chittister who famously said: "We are each called to go through life, reclaiming the planet an inch at a time until the Garden of Eden grows green again."
Her words are an ongoing inspiration to me to keep on reclaiming the inch of justice in front of me -even when the destination seems too far out of sight to be achievable, even when an inch seems too little, even when it seems that we keep taking two inches forward and one inch back.
I thought of her words today as the news broke of President Obama's direction to his staff to draft an executive order that would ban workplace discrimination against lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender employees of federal contractors. According to The Huffington Post report:
The move is the clearest indication to date that the administration is prepared to take action on LGBT rights where Congress has fallen short. Notably, the official would not say whether the president will sign the order into law on Monday -- suggesting the White House is leaking the news to warn lawmakers that they have a limited window to pass more sweeping workplace discrimination legislation before he acts without them.
Yes, it's only an inch. Yes, there are many inches to reclaim toward that goal of making liberty and justice for all actually mean "all." And yes, it comes after years of urging both Congress and the White House to act to end the egregious reality that in 32 states it is still legal to fire someone solely because of their actual or perceived sexual orientation or gender identity by passing ENDA (Employment Non-Discrimination Act.) But we are on that journey together.
In 2009, the General Convention of the Episcopal Church adopted a resolution entitled "Support Employment Non-discrimination Laws"-- a resolution that read:
Resolved, That the 76th General Convention of The Episcopal Church support the extension of existing federal laws that prohibit employment discrimination to include discrimination because of sexual orientation or gender identity and expression along with those prohibitions based on race, gender, religion, national origin, age and disability
Four years later, in 2013, the Episcopal Diocese of Los Angeles called for a vote on ENDA with a letter that said, in part:
ENDA embodies the American ideal of fairness: employees should be judged on their skills and abilities in the workplace, not on their sexual orientation or gender identity. All U.S. workers deserve to be judged on the quality of the job they do, nothing more, nothing less.
And now we are poised to move another inch toward that goal. As HRC (Human Rights Campaign) President Chad Griffin said, "By issuing an executive order prohibiting federal contractors from discriminating against LGBT people, the president will not only create fairer workplaces across the country, he will demonstrate to Congress that adopting federal employment protections for LGBT people is good policy and good for business."
This is what liberty and justice for all looks like: making sure that that equal protection equally protects all Americans.
This is what loving your neighbor as yourself looks like: protecting your neighbor from losing her or his job just because they are gay or lesbian; bisexual or transgender.
And this is what leadership looks like: reclaiming the inch of the planet in front of you when you can, how you can -- and challenging others to go and do likewise.
Thank you, Mr. President. Ball is in your court, Mr. Boehner.
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