First lady Michelle Obama wasn’t having it — and I don’t blame her. Lesbian activist Ellen Sturtz wasn’t having it — and, well, I don’t blame her, either.
Obama was speaking passionately about children at a Democratic Party fundraiser in Washington last night when Sturtz heckled her about her husband’s lack of action on ending discrimination against lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) federal employees. Obama was not pleased. In the audio of the incident, you hear the first lady say, “One of the things that I don’t do well is this.” According to the reporter’s pool report, she “left the lectern and moved over to the protester.” The reporter also quotes Obama as saying, “Listen to me or you can take the mic, but I’m leaving. You all decide. You have one choice.”
Could Obama have handled things better, not shown so much pique in public? Maybe. Still, I think the first lady has a right not to put up with being heckled. After all, she’s not the president. President Obama gets pestered publicly all the time. But he signed up for it when he decided to run for the White House. That’s why picking on his wife is rather lame. Yet, as you could hear in the audio, she is more than willing and capable of defending herself.
That being said, while I didn’t like Sturtz’s choice of venue or target of her outburst, I support the substance of what she had to say. According to The Post, Sturtz said she told the first lady, “I said I want your husband to sign the executive order,” She added, “Her husband could sign this order tonight and protect 22 percent of the workforce in this country.”
The order Sturtz is talking about is an executive order barring discrimination by federal contractors on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity that has been sitting on the president’s desk since February 2012. Rather than sign it, Obama opted to pursue a legislative remedy. At the time, I thought the president should sign the executive order AND push Congress to pass the long-stalled “Employment Non-Discrimination Act” (ENDA).
Three data points from a “confidential memo” written by the Williams Institute and the Center for American Progress bear repeating.
The top 5 federal contractors are all defense contractors — Lockheed Martin, Boeing, Northrop Grumman, Raytheon, and General Dynamics — and together they receive about a quarter of all federal contracting dollars. Five out of five have nondiscrimination policies that include sexual orientation; five out of five have nondiscrimination policies that include gender identity; and the four largest provide domestic partner benefits.
Looking at the top 25 federal contractors, 24 have nondiscrimination policies that include sexual orientation; 13 have nondiscrimination policies that include gender identity; and 18 provide domestic partner benefits.
Finally, looking at employees of federal contractors that are in the Fortune 1000, 92 percent are already protected by a company-wide sexual orientation nondiscrimination policy, and 58 percent are already protected by a gender identity nondiscrimination policy.
Given the data, signing an executive order barring federal contractors from discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity most likely would not be such a big deal in the business world. And now that the presidential election is out of the way, the politics are less complicated.
All that’s needed is the president’s signature. When you know that’s all it would take to bring about fairness, you’d do anything to get it done — including heckling the spouse of the only person who has the power to do it.
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