06/13/2012 05:37 pm ET Updated Feb 02, 2016

Dear Mr. President: Students Ask Obama to Protect LGBT Employees

This past April President Obama refused to sign an executive order that would ban discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity by employers with federal contracts. This Friday I will be attending President Obama's annual LGBT Pride Reception at the White House, and I plan to give him the following letter asking him to reconsider that decision:

President Obama,

First off, thank you for the warm invitation to attend your annual LGBT Pride Month reception at the White House. I don't quite know how to express just how honored I am to be here with you, but perhaps it will suffice to say that I will be telling my grandchildren about this moment over and over until they can repeat the story to me by heart.

Secondly, I wanted to thank you for the visionary president you have been. As president of the United States, you have done more for LGBT Americans than any other president in history: You have brought about the end of "don't ask, don't tell"; along with Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, you have affirmed that LGBT rights are human rights; and most recently, you have come out as the first president in our nation's history to affirm gay marriage. Under your presidency and through your leadership, LGBT Americans have made innumerable strides toward a more equal world, but there is still work to be done.

This is why I wanted to write you today. As a junior at Duke University and a native North Carolinian, I wanted to write to you on behalf of young people and college students across the state. On May 8, one day before your historic statement about gay marriage, North Carolinians overwhelmingly passed Amendment 1, an amendment to our state constitution that makes not just gay marriage but any form of legal recognition for LGBT couples unconstitutional.

As North Carolinians, we have seen firsthand what happens to the rights of LGBT individuals when they are put up to a popular vote; furthermore, as students of history, we know that leaving the question of civil rights up to individual communities has rarely worked. That is why school integration took so much longer than it should have, because in the wake of Brown v. Board of Education, President Eisenhower refused to enforce the decision and left integration up to local school boards. History teaches us over and over again that when you allow local groups and organizations to make the decision about whether or not to protect fundamental rights, you allow them to discriminate.

The same is true of companies in our country. Companies in the United States should not be allowed to discriminate on the basis of an employee's sexual orientation or gender identity, and allowing any popular vote on the matter is equivalent to perpetuating discrimination against LGBT individuals. Accordingly, we must have federal employment nondiscrimination legislation (such as the Employment Non-Discrimination Act, or ENDA) that protects employees from discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity. The reality, however, is that that kind of legislation will take some time.

This is where you can make a real difference in our country right now. Currently, 22 percent of employees in the United States work for companies that have contracts with the federal government. By issuing an executive order that bans discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity in all companies that have contracts with the federal government, you can protect millions of talented, productive, and passionate employees in an instant.

We also want you to know that this is something that universities in North Carolina do already. Duke and UNC Chapel Hill may be rivals, but one thing we agree on is that we both protect employees from discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity. Why do we do it? No one is making us, and there is no law saying that we have to, but as institutions we choose to protect our LGBT employees because we realize that it is not only good business but the right thing to do. As institutions that share contracts with the federal government, an executive order preventing discrimination against LGBT employees would reaffirm policies and values that we already hold dear.

Furthermore, we want you to know that if you do choose to issue an executive order that protects LGBT employees from discrimination, we, like millions of Americans across the country, will stand by your side in November. Recent studies have indicated that 73 percent of likely voters in the 2012 election would support this kind executive order. Accordingly, your supporters in North Carolina and across the nation will fight for your presidency and your vision of America even harder, confident in the knowledge that for the next four years we will have a president who values and supports all Americans.

This past month I found out that my father was laid off. Now my family faces the daunting reality of losing our health insurance, and my father faces the many anxieties that come with unemployment. But the fact of the matter is that regardless of how frustrating it is to be laid off, my father was laid off in a way that was more or less fair. He wasn't laid off because of he's the son of Lebanese immigrants, or because he's Catholic, or because he has a history of back problems; he was laid off simply because his company couldn't afford to pay his salary anymore. The sad reality in our country is that for so many LGBT Americans, this is not the case. On top of the hardship that my family has already gone through, I cannot imagine how we would cope if my dad were laid off because of who he is.

Mr. President, not only do we live in a state where LGBT families have been made unconstitutional, but we live in a state where we can be fired simply because of who we love or how we identify. For many of us who are about to enter the job market, the fact that we can lose our livelihood because we are part of the LGBT community is a concern that is all too real. Through the stroke of a pen, you can begin to change that; through the stroke of a pen, you will bring our nation yet another step closer to true equality.

Jacob Tobia

Director of LGBTQ Policy

Duke Student Government

Duke University '14

Austin Gilmore


UNC Young Democrats

UNC Chapel Hill '13

Elena Botella


College Democrats of North Carolina

Duke University '13

Christopher Hanlin


BluePrint Magazine

UNC Chapel Hill '13

Swati Rayasam

Editor, Lambda Magazine

UNC Young Democrats

UNC Chapel Hill '13

Jeff DeLuca

Outgoing President


UNC Chapel Hill '12

P.S. Can you tell Secretary Clinton we said hello? She won't answer our texts...