Obama’s Not Signing LGBT Workplace Protection Exec Order For Vague, Unconvincing Reasons

Despite the exhortations of an adorable family who loves Easter Eggs (not to mention the letter sent by 72 members of Congress), Obama has refused to sign an executive order that would protect LGBT employees from discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation by federal contractors. Instead, Obama’s administration says it’s looking to ENDA as the solution to problems faced by queer members of the workforce. And inclusive ENDA bill, you may recall, has been introduced countless times, with no real hope of ever being passed. Back in October, an organization formed to work for ENDA’s passage, but what progress has been made since then is unclear. In short, it would appear that Obama has decided not to sign this executive order because he’d rather put progress in the hands of a piece of legislation that’s failed consistently and which no one believes will succeed in the foreseeable future.

this is what obama won't be doing for LGBTs

What’s confusing is that to the outside observer, it doesn’t even seem necessary. Ostensibly, Obama is making this move because he doesn’t want to appear to be too gay-friendly in an election year. But Obama’s support of the gay community (and Planned Parenthood, while we’re on the subject) seems like it’s already more than enough to turn off anyone who’s basing their ability to vote on gay issues. Someone who will flat out refuse to support a President who allows gay and lesbian employees to be protected from discrimination seems like they probably already jumped that ship when Obama declared Section 3 of DOMA unconstitutional, or supported DADT’s repeal. Furthermore, the number of people (voters) who oppose this move seems to actually be pretty small — while large percentage of Americans still oppose marriage equality, a full 74% of Americans don’t believe that employers should be able to discriminate based on sexual orientation. So why is Obama so hesitant?

Political maneuvering meant to woo undecided voters in election years is common, and no one is surprised by it, even from Obama. And using the queer community as a way to distinguish yourself in one way or another isn’t new, either, and often takes the form of throwing us under the bus. But to refuse to extend basic protections to queer people when it’s within your power to do so, and to not even get a meaningful political payoff for it? That seems utterly indefensible. And even more indefensible, Jarrod Scarbrough and Les Sewell, the couple who attended the White House Easter Egg Roll to confront Obama about the executive order, are still left trying to explain to their eight-year-old daughter why their family still doesn’t have the rights and securities it deserves.

Before you go! Autostraddle runs on the reader support of our AF+ Members. If this article meant something to you today — if it informed you or made you smile or feel seen, will you consider joining AF and supporting the people who make this queer media site possible?

Join AF+!


Originally from Boston, MA, Rachel now lives in the Midwest. Topics dear to her heart include bisexuality, The X-Files and tacos. Her favorite Ciara video is probably "Ride," but if you're only going to watch one, she recommends "Like A Boy." You can follow her on twitter and instagram.

Rachel has written 1142 articles for us.


  1. So, Alex Kondracke (L Word & Hung writer, Girltrash director and wife of Angela Robinson) was there with her adorable son Diego Robinson. I saw it on Twitter. Cutest thing ever. It sucks that he didn’t sign it. I think that his personal view is for 100% LGBT equality including marriage but he just doesn’t want to upset the moderates/swinging voters etc. Lame.

  2. Although Obama will most likely be reelected it Seems like the Republicans will have the House and the Senate. If we couldnt pass ENDA before no way it will pass in these conditions…

  3. “Someone who will flat out refuse to support a President who allows gay and lesbian employees to be protected from discrimination seems like they probably already jumped that ship when Obama declared Section 3 of DOMA unconstitutional, or supported DADT’s repeal.”

    The opposite is also true. People who want a president who supports gay rights will already vote Obama based on DOMA and DADT. He has the “gay vote”, why keep campaigning to them? Also, by promoting ENDA, Democrats will be able to use it as a campaign issue in two years.

  4. ENDA would’ve already been passed by Congress if everyone would’ve been OK with passing a version that protected gays and lesbians immediately and working toward getting protections passed for transgender men and women. This issue of Obama exercising executive power for this issue during an election year would’ve been moot. But our leaders in the supposed gay community failed us. They would rather gay people wait an extra 10, 20, 30 years for transgender protections in the bill. The thing is, now no one has these protections, cis gays or trans straights and gays. Yes, Congress should just pass it either way because no one should be fired for being gay, transgender, black, female, etc. But there’s how things should be and how they are. Gay leadership has failed us.

    • I can’t with what you’re saying. Are you seriously condemning gay leaders for being too trans-inclusive?

      • It feels a little like gay leaders decided gay rights weren’t as important as trans rights. And you can certainly flip it and say “no, they decided that trans rights were just as important as gays rights.” That’s fine, but then we’re not fighting for gay rights anymore, are we? We are fighting for everyone’s rights and expecting everyone to get them at the exact same time, which has never happened in the history of anything ever. Progress and civil rights have always happened incrementally. One might argue that the increments is what makes it happen fastest. We give a little, realize the sky isn’t falling, and we give a little more. Right now, we have nothing on basic legal workplace protections. Should we hold out for every “other” category that isn’t cis, heterosexual, white, etc., even if it means we are stopping our own rights advancement when it might otherwise go forward? Should the gay community take on the issues of those who are intersex too? Does gay now mean trans and intersex? Does gay mean, “anything to do with sexuality that straight people think is icky?” I am all for trans rights and civil rights, but we need to be practical and we as the gay community need to get up the mountain before we can pull other people up. Otherwise, we’re all just at the bottom of the mountain, wondering how we can engineer a way to get to the top at the same time. It makes no sense. And as someone looking to gay leaders to represent me as a gay person, who is not trans, it’s frankly disappointing. If gay rights are now trans rights, then things got a less practical and a lot less representative of who I am.

        • LGBT – the letters go together, and time and time again we as a community have neglected the T. Sacrificing one group of disenfrachised members of the queer community to “win” rights for others is not a battle strategy I’d ever, ever endorse. How much longer do we have to keep throwing our trans* brothers and sisters under the bus for our cis-privileges to creep forward?

          • I don’t know if you realize this, but being gay and being trans are not even close to being the same thing. The only thing they have in common is that, in the past, mainstream straight people threw them both in the “other” category. That’s basically where it ends.

            By your logic, gay people should fight against discrimination against Muslims too. I find discrimination against Muslims appalling, but I am not going to refuse progress on gay rights until legislation for gay rights includes something about racial profiling to help Muslims.

            We can easily do both, if that is what we want to do. If some gay people choose to take up the cause of trans rights, they can do that without stabbing fellow gays (who they purport to represent) in the backs and turning the gay rights movement into the trans rights movement. We can have separate battles — separate legislation or separate amendments to larger bills — toward a common goal of a world without discrimination and we will BOTH be better off for it. We could’ve introduced separate legislation or an amendment for ENDA to include trans so if it failed, we still didn’t waste all the energy and effort into securing the votes on the gay provision.

            It makes me so sad that some people are just so ignorant about this. I think some people just like to complain about inclusiveness, but don’t actually care about gay rights in a real world sense.

          • …Magiclovemuffin, you are not being very loving.

            As Paper0Flowers said, the letters go together. We’re the -queer- community. I’m a person who falls under both the T and the Q in LGBTQ, and I know many others like me. It’s not “stabbing fellow gays in the backs” by fighting for multiple movements.

            Please stop talking. Please.

          • That’s fine that you fall under T and Q. But some of us are gay (not trans or queer) and do not wish for so-called gay rights leaders to sabotage gay rights legislation for trans or queer rights legislation that won’t even pass.

            LGBTQ makes about as much sense as me picking random letters out of a hat. If you identify as both trans and queer, that’s great. I’m gay. We should both get full rights and work toward that goal — that is without question. But I don’t expect you to say “no thanks” to rights advancement for us, and it shouldn’t be expected that we undo years of effort on securing votes for gay rights legislation for you either.

          • It sucks that it would be politically easier to pass legislation that only protect the LGB portion of the acronym than to protect the entire acronym. Just like it sucks that my sister is allowed to get married because she likes boys and I can’t because I like girls. That doesn’t mean that my sister shouldn’t marry her boyfriend someday. (She definitely should they are really cute together.)

            Sometimes the world just has a lot of assholes. I think that someday trans rights will be easier to pass than they are now, but unfortunately we aren’t there yet.

            Gay rights and trans rights overlap in a lot of ways, but they are not the same. The same is true for gay rights and women’s rights. There is nothing really wrong with putting your efforts towards improving the rights of your demographic, even if those efforts don’t pull every related interest along as well.

            I think that magiclovemuffin is mainly annoyed because some progress was possible — flawed progress, but still progress — and the community walked away from it because it was flawed.

          • Oh, and you can call me cynical, because I am, but politics is just a high stakes game that you have to play if you want to get anywhere. Refusing to play out of principle just leaves everyone kind of fucked because the far right does play the game.

    • because every fucking time gay inc throws us under the bus with the promise to come back to us later they never get around to coming back for us, they just leave us as fucking roadkill.

      also if everyone keeps treating trans* issues as being toxic then they will continue to be perceived as being toxic and it will never fucking change

      • truth

        its sad that people still see trans people as not valid enough to receive the same rights

      • a) I don’t think that’s true at all. Gay rights and trans rights have somehow been inexplicably linked. Everyone just says “LGBT” now. Gay rights organizations are constantly talking about trans rights, as if they are the same thing. It is assumed that trans rights are gay rights by just about everyone.
        b) We didn’t leave you for roadkill on ENDA. Instead, we stood there so the car could hit us both. Worked out great.
        c) Gay rights were toxic for politicians up until about this election cycle. It wasn’t toxic because politicians wouldn’t support it. They didn’t support it because it was perceived as toxic. Popular opinion about trans people is built by daily exposure and interactions, one-on-one, person-to-person, not Congress. The average person doesn’t even know what ENDA is. You’re way off base.

    • I’d rather be left out in the cold a bit longer than get to go inside and party with all the people who apparently don’t give a shit that trans* people are also people.

    • Guess what, I don’t want to stand under the protection of any law that doesn’t acknowledge trans* people as just as equal as me. You’re really willing to take whatever *you* can get from the haters, and fuck all the men and women left behind? I think that’s reprehensible.

      • Welcome to how history unfolds. Since when did separate minority groups wait for other minority groups to get their own rights? Largely, black rights movement was separate from women’s rights, etc. etc. There may have been awareness, but they didn’t refuse their own rights advancement over it. When one group gets a right, it opens the door for the next group. They don’t all come walking in a the same time. The small, palatable steps change society’s interpretation of what these rights are and why there’s no good reason to deny them.

        Concessions and incremental improvements are part of any process of bringing two opposing sides together. I hope you never have to negotiate for anything.

        • How’s that lesson in “learn from history so you don’t repeat the same mistakes” turning out for you? Must’ve missed that memo, eh?

          • Thank you for your accidentally astute comment, Paper0Flowers. The mistake here was believing that by saying no to gay rights, we were somehow advancing trans rights. Hopefully we will indeed learn from history so we don’t repeat that same mistake the next time legislation for gay rights has bipartisan support in Congress.

        • “Be like early civil rights movements” is terrible advice and the opposite of learning from history. You obviously forget the incredibly racist rhetoric of many key players in the women’s suffrage movement, spurred on by the resentment bred by incremental increases in rights.

    • This is ultimately the problem not just for us but for the entire Left. What ever subject or movement is in the lime light invariably gets buried under the add-ons of other interests and causes of concern. It happened with OWS. Of course transgender protection should be included in ENDA. We all think that, we know we’re right about it and the people who don’t agree are bigoted idiots. But this isn’t about being right, this is about how we play the game.

      While I would from a personal point of view rather wait in solidarity until all of the community is protected, realise this: I am single, I don’t have kids, a house or any other major responsibilities. That colours my view. While I expected a lot of the outrage in reply to Muffin’s post, I don’t think many of you consider that this isn’t so much about the morality of the question (which we all agree upon) but rather how we play the political system to our advantage. Do we try to fix everything at once (which, as Muffin says might take however many years) or do we go at it one thing at the time? Do we risk putting transgender issues on the backburner? What if people end up not caring if we do? What about the people who we can get protection for now and desperately need it? One way or the other, we have to decide how we play the game. Until we do, the division present in our community is playing right into the hands of the conservatives and the GOP.

    • This argument would be more persuasive if it was ever made by trans* folks instead of at them.

      • I massively object to this line of reasoning. The argument for overthrowing the Patriarchy is not made more ‘persuasive’ by being presented by a man. It is either valid or it is not, on its own merits.

    • i am disgusted on every level at transphobic bullshit you are suggesting, and if the only version of ENDA that could pass didn’t provide protections for trans people, who are even MORE vulnerable to discrimination in the job market and in the workplace then it didn’t need to pass. and are you forgetting the L.G.B.’s that have transgressive gender presentations and are subject to many of the same forms of discrimination that trans people are subjected to? are you willing to forget their needs as well? there will never be a point in time when i am okay with throwing trans people under the bus and not fighting for our rights as a collective unit. i’m a lesbian who has dated transmen and i have trans friends and these are people that i LOVE and people who i feel are more then tangentially related to my community. i don’t need to have my rights at the expense of trans exclusion.

  5. For some reason, Obama reminds me of cinnamon and sugar on warm buttered toast. Long story short; I didn’t read this article

  6. I know people are frustrated, but an executive order is a temporary smoke screen and has no teeth. ENDA would likely create a cause-of-action for persons discriminated against (executive order would not) and once it exists it would be hard to get rid of.

    Obviously, waiting for this congress is not ideal, but an executive order would take away any sense of urgency from the 72 congress people already tuned into the issue.

    Not to mention there are still plenty of litigation techniques that we can use in the meantime.

  7. It must be so difficult to be Obama (I’m not kidding). I’m pretty sure he’s personally for it, but I guess in politics you must make some concessions to have others in return. I guess if he’d done everything he wanted in one go he’d be out of office right now.

    • I just had this exact conversation with my partner last week. It’s so frustrating, but I sincerely wonder if anyone else wouldve been able to do things differently and still stay in power. My guess is no….as sad as that is. I hope if he stays in office he makes good on all the promises he made to our community and makes some bold changes!

  8. I am just so tired with chicken-shit politicians.

    Anyone else think it’s ironic that a black President, while throwing us under the bus–continues to relegate us to the back of the bus?

    I may need to consume an entire box of Cocoa Pebbles over this.

    • I can’t believe this problem seriously exists. I think its just another recycled discrimination issue, just like race once was. But now its somehow fine for the lgbt community to be treated as a second class citizens and somehow the majority of Americans don’t see or want to admit the parallels, serious face-palm…

      • i’m going to tell your myopic ass the same thing i told the other obtuse person you agreed with, the fact that de jure racial discrimination no longer exists has not eradicated de facto racial discrimination. when people like you and smartypants get together to say some IGNORANT SHIT like this you not only alienate straight black people, you alienate gay black people like me who are supposed to be a part of your “community”. but if you say what you’ve said, i guess you weren’t thinking about people like me, huh? what does that tell you? anyway, this might be hard, but try thinking next time before you insist that racial discrimination no longer exists and that blacks are not relegated to second class status.

    • heynofuckyou. Inappropriate choice of words there. Youre being a bad ally to the Black community while acting like youre entitled to their allyship. I cant even.

      [Mostly directed at Em but also at you too because youre using historical parallels instead of current ones]
      “just like race once was” still is. just because there’s laws against it, doesnt mean it never happened again. And trust me, when there’s enough laws against firing queer people for being so…. it’ll still happen. And you’re not winning any allies for when it does by erasing that it still happens

    • what is “ironic” about it? just what the in hell makes you think black people still aren’t still riding on the “back of the bus”? are you black? as a black person who is viscerally subjected to more racial discrimination then homophobia i can tell you black folks still are still riding in the back of the mother fucking bus in every sector of society. just because racial discrimination isn’t de jure doesn’t mean it isn’t de facto. he has an even harder time pushing legislation through BECAUSE he is black. have you seen the vitriolic and disrespectful way the republican congress has been opposing him? the way he has had to tiptoe and bend over backwards so he doesn’t come off as the angry black man? the racist jokes his wife and children have been subjected to, but aren’t allowed to respond to like human beings? open your fucking eyes. he’s not chickenshit, he’s playing it smart as the first black president, so he can get elected to a second term and try and push more progressive legislation through then. what do you think mitt romney is going to do if he gets elected? or what mccain and palin would have done if they were voted in. please, we’d still be living under DADT and maybe even more draconian anti-gay laws. get real.

  9. Obama is playing the long game with LGBT rights. An Executive Order would be extremely easy for a future president to overturn. If he can get Congress to pass legislation to ban workplace discrimination it will be a lot harder to overturn later. Look at how he dealt with DADT, he refused to sign an executive order while calling for Congress to end it. With DOMA, he defended the law in court just long enough to get positive precedent, then refused to support it any further and called on Congress to repeal it. While playing the long game allows some people to be hurt in the short term, it drastically increases the likelihood that there will be permanent positive changes.

    Oh, and I’m also pretty sure that his “evolving beliefs” on marriage equality are that he supports it, but is just waiting for the right political moment to express that. Our president can be pretty wily, in a good way.

    • I agree. I think he and Michelle support us even past marriage equality. Maybe this is a pipe dream, wishful thinking, but I think Obama is just waiting until he gets re-elected to find ways to get the LGBT community the rights we need. His next term would be when he makes his most important changes to this country, without fear of having a next term taken away and all his hard work tossed to the street by the Right. I think he wants to ensure he doesn’t piss off the wrong people or group and lose 2012. There are conservatives who are unconvinced/confused by the candidate being presented by their senile party, and it would be cool if they decided to vote for Obama instead. I really, really don’t want that rich douche Mitt Romney to be my president. I will cry and I’m not kidding at all.

    • I agree. I think he’s strategically picking his battles. An executive order “quick fix” isn’t his style and if there’s a changing of the guard in the next election, too easy to overturn. By signing the Student Non-Discrimination Act this week, he’s given rights surrounding SOGI (Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity as the UN puts it… which I prefer…) to young people. This gives pepole the chance to then point out that possibly it’s stupid that only children have these rights and not everyone… and who (except a few special few) can say “Well, just let them keep bullying the children to suicide”?

  10. Don’t worry, I’m sure after Obama leaves office (be it 2013 or, more likely, 2017), he will evolve and be all for passing ENDA and repealing DOMA. You know, kinda like Bill Clinton, who suddenly decided DOMA was bad in spite of the fact that he signed into law in the first place. Politicians are terrible.

Comments are closed.