Wednesday, July 23, 2014

Incremental change

Yesterday, President Obama signed an Executive Order (video above) forbidding federal contractors from discriminating against LGBT employees. The rightwing meltdown was as predictable as it was boring, and also just plain stupid. It’s still a big deal, though.

Existing executive orders already prevented the US Federal Government from discriminating against gay employees, but President Obama extended that to include gender identity. Also, those same protections are now extended to contractors to the US Federal Government. This affects some 28 million workers, which is huge.

Writing on the Washington Post, Jonathan Capehart gives the history of anti-discrimination executive orders, and adds:
“Obama’s executive order will apply to the 24,000 companies designated as federal contractors whose 28 million workers make up a fifth of the country’s workforce. One reason we haven’t heard any squawking from the business community is because most federal contractors are already protecting their LGBT employees. Among the data points in a “confidential memo” written by the Williams Institute and the Center for American Progress in 2012 for then-Rep. Barney Frank (D-Mass.) was this key statistic: 92 percent of employees of federal contractors in the Fortune 1000 are already protected by a company-wide sexual orientation nondiscrimination policy and 58 percent are already protected by a gender identity nondiscrimination policy.” [link in original]
What’s significant in all this is that much of the executive order has been in force for over a decade and a half, and also that the vast majority of federal contractors already have these anti-discrimination provisions, so there’s no burden whatsoever.

So: What’s the radical right on about? The short answer is “nothing”, of course, but the longer answer is that a tiny, tiny minority of federal contractors might be forbidden to discriminate against LGBT employees. Um, too bad.

Two things. First, it seems beyond bizarre to me that the radical right would seriously try and argue that their supposedly “sincerely held religious beliefs” boils down to the right to discriminate against LGBT employees. I don’t think their Jesus died for that, though they clearly disagree.

The second thing is this: LGBT Americans pay taxes just like everyone else does. Why should one cent of LGBT tax money go to aide and abet their own oppression? Why should LGBT taxpayers have to pay to be discriminated against? Just because some religious radical claims his supposedly “sincerely held religious beliefs” entitles him to take federal tax money, yet discriminate against taxpayers, that doesn’t make it true or reasonable.

This executive order is an important step on the road to full equality. Some day we’ll look back at these days and wonder how we ever could have considered pandering to bigots. President Obama stood up for what is right, and he should be applauded for that (never mind how long it took to get there…).

One thing in particular struck me about the president’s remarks. He said:
“Many of us are only here because others fought to secure rights and opportunities for us. We’ve got a responsibility to do the same for future generations. We’ve got an obligation to make sure that the country we love remains a place that no matter who you are, or what you look like, or where you come from, or how you started out, or what your last name is, or who you love, no matter what, you can make it in this country.”
It’s been a torturous road to equality in the USA, and the country has a long way to go, but things like this executive order help push things along just a little bit further. Even though this change is only incremental, it’s significant—even with so much left to do.

Let’s celebrate what’s good. Tomorrow we can fight for what remains to be done.

No comments: