'We Can't Wait,' Gay Rights Activists Say, Urging Passage Of Nondiscrimination Executive Order

 @ashleyportero
on April 16 2012 3:09 PM
Gay Rights
The LBGT flag. Reuters

Gay rights activists have adopted one of President Barack Obama's key 2008 campaign slogans, We Can't Wait as part of a campaign to urge the White House to reverse course and advance an executive order that would prohibit discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity.

Jonathon Lewis, the son of the billionaire Democratic benefactor Peter Lewis, told The Washington Post he plans to spend $100,000 to fund a We Can't Wait campaign. Lewis said the money will be used to fly victims of sexual or gender identity discrimination at the hands of federal contractors to Washington, D.C. in order to confront the Obama administration about its pause on the issue.

Lewis is the founder and chairman of Progressive Insurance Corp., a major donor in Democratic and liberal politics. The company donated millions of dollars to Democratic causes in the 2008 election cycle, including $925,000 to the Young Democrats of America and $250,000 to the Gay and Lesbian Victory Fund, according to giving data available from the Center for Responsive Politics.

A surprising rift opened between the White House and the gay rights movement late last week after administration officials revealed on Wednesday that President Obama would not sign the executive order in question. Representatives from Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender (LGBT) advocacy groups reportedly learned of the news during a closed-door meeting with Obama aides Valeria Jarrett and Cecilia Munoz, who said the White House would lead a comprehensive effort to urge companies and federal agencies to oppose discrimination rather go forward with the proposed executive order.

LGBT advocacy groups such as the liberal Center for American Progress and the Human Rights Campaign released critical statements regarding the administration's decision. Heather Cronk, the managing director of the group GetEqual told MSNBC the move should send chills up [the] spine of equality activists yearning for support from Obama, who was heavily endorsed by gay and lesbian groups in 2008.

Questions Obama's Leadership On LBGT Rights

This isn't a broken promise President Obama can blame on Congress, Jonathan Lewis told The Washington Post. He has not been able to provide a single valid reason for why he is now refusing to sign the executive order protecting LGBT workers. It has become increasingly clear that this decision is based on cowardice rather than principled leadership.

As of now, the White House has not completely ruled out the executive order. White House Press Secretary Jay Carney last week maintained the Obama administration is committed to advancing equal rights and protections for the LGBT community. Instead of settling for the order, Carney said the administration instead aims to pass the Employment Non-Discrimination Act, a legislative solution that would prohibit employment discrimination based on sexual orientation or gender identity by civilian, non-religious employees.

The bill has been introduced in every Congress since 1994, aside from the 109th, to no avail. The White House reportedly aims to rally support in Congress to pass the legislation, although a vote on any gay rights measure in the near future is unlikely to occur in the Republican-controlled House of Representatives.

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.

Although President Obama has won multiple victories for the gay community -- namely, the repeal of the military's Don't Ask, Don't Tell policy and the administration's decision to stop defending the legality of the Defense of Marriage Act -- he has not specifically spoken out in favor of marriage equality, instead saying he is evolving on the issue. Some say the White House is attempting to brush the subject to the side during Obama's reelection bid because it could be portrayed an anti-business by Republicans, particularly the party's presumed nominee Mitt Romney, in what is expected to be a heated general election.

More than 70 House Democrats signed a letter earlier this month urging the president to take action on the non-discrimination order, which they said will extend important workplace protections for approximately 16 million workers.

Several Democrats have spoken out in favor of including marriage equality in the official 2012 Democratic platform. Four former chairs of the Democratic National Committee -- Howard Dean, Donald Fower, Steve Grossman and David Wilhelm -- recently penned a statement urging the party to publicly embrace the issue.

We are proud that the Democratic Party fights for working families, economic justice and equal opportunity for all, wrote the former DNC Chairs in a joint statement. Times change but our principles must always remain strong. That is why, as former chairs of the Democratic National Committee, we stand with Freedom to marry, 22 Democratic senators, Leading Nancy Pelosi and more than 35,000 Americans in urging the Party to include a freedom to marry plank in the platform that is ratified at the Democratic National Convention in Charlotte this September.

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