Gay rights activists angry at Obama’s refusal to sign anti-discrimination order

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LGBT activists have reacted angrily to President Obama’s decision not to sign an executive order that would have outlawed workplace discrimination on the grounds of sexuality and gender identity.

Tico Almeida, president of the group Freedom to Work, thought that many felt betrayed by this decision. “I believe this is a political calculation,” he said, having learned about the decision during a meeting with White House officials on Wednesday. “It’s not about the substance,” he added.

Jay Carney, White House spokesperson, said that political motives were “absolutely not” the reason behind the president’s moves. “We’re deeply committed to working hand-in-hand with partners in the LGBT community on a number of fronts to build the case for employment non-discrimination policies,” Mr Carney said.

The executive order (no. 11246) would have expanded the directive of the original bill, signed in 1965 by President Lyndon Johnson that outlawed federal contractors from discrimination based on race, religion and gender.

Gay and transgender rights activists have also said that the bill has popular support, pointing to a poll by the thinktank, Center for American Progress, which showed that three in four voters supported protections against discrimination for LGBT people. Besides, they add, both the Department of Labor and of Justice had given the green signal for the White House to act.

The feeling of betrayal stems, some say, from the fact that even as a candidate for the 2008 elections, Mr Obama promised to ban employee discrimination. That promise has not yet born fruit. And, in 2010, he gave an interview to the gay-themed magazine, Advocate, where he said he would circumvent Congress if necessary. “There 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,” he had said.

There is another bill, called the Employment Non-Discrimination Act, that has been stalled in the House of Representatives, thanks to a Republican majority. Mr Carney has said that the White House will “build support for passage of this legislation, a comprehensive approach to legislate on the issue of non-discrimination.”

CBS reports that there has been a heated exchange between reporters and Mr Carney during the daily White House briefing. Mr Carney said there was sufficient proof of Mr Obama’s “commitment” to LGBT rights, pointing to the repeal of the “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” military policy.

Several groups have now vowed to continue pressing the president to reverse his decision and sign the executive order. Jonathan Lewis, the son of a well-known donor for the Democrats, Paul Lewis, has said that the president cannot blame the Congress for a “broken promise.”

“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,” Mr Lewis said in a statement. “It has become increasingly clear that this decision is based on cowardice rather than principled leadership.”

Some sympathetic donors are also being asked, US media report, not to contribute to Mr Obama’s re-election campaign, and instead to donate at least as much to the anti-discrimination efforts.

Mr Almeida, however, did add that Mr Obama “has done more for LGBT equality than any other president in United States history and more than the prior presidents combined.” Although the order may not be signed now, the administration has left sufficient room for the decision to be reversed, he said.