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Obama transition team is transgender-inclusive

by Nick Cargo

In what is being viewed as a strong signal to activists nationwide, the transition office of President-elect Barack Obama has issued a non-discrimination policy including sexual orientation and gender identity.

"The Obama-Biden Transition Project does not discriminate on the basis of race, color, religion, sex, age, national origin, veteran status, sexual orientation, gender identity, disability, or any other basis of discrimination prohibited by law," says the website of the Office of the President-elect,

While Executive Order 13087, signed by President Clinton in 1998 to amend President Nixon's Executive Order 11478, prohibits discrimination based on sexual orientation in hiring for the federal civilian workforce, it does not mention gender identity. "The inclusion of gender identity is a bold departure from the past," said ACLU Senior Legislative Counsel Christopher E. Anders, "and it sends a clear message."

"As the new Administration gears up, it should be focused on hiring the best people for the job," Anders added. "By including sexual orientation and gender identity in its non-discrimination policy, the Obama-Biden transition team makes clear that it will focus on the relevant qualities that actually predict an applicant’s success on the job – professional experience, character, skills and education."

LGBT workers do not have federal-level protections, and Executive Order 13087 does not extend protections based on sexual orientation to non-civilian posts in the military or jobs in agencies such as the NSA, FBI or CIA. The order also doesn't extend new rights to those not protected federally, such as the right to take a complaint to the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, but the EEOC says that "it did set the stage for positive and constructive action by all units of the federal government to make certain that the workplace is one free from harassment and discrimination."

"We're already seeing the initial signs that President-elect Obama is committed to welcoming the experience and talents of lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender people within his administration," added Human Rights Campaign President Joe Solmonese. "After years of President Bush's special counsel refusing to enforce fair hiring practices in regards to LGBT workers, this statement signals that change is happening and that our community is a rightful part of it."

The Employment Non-Discrimination Act, having evolved from 1974's "Gay Rights Bill" introduced into Congress on the fifth anniversary of the Stonewall Rebellion, would provide employment discrimination protections to gays and lesbians like those granted on the basis of sex, religion, race, color or national origin. HR 2015, introduced in April 2007 and debated by the 110th Congress, would have provided such protections on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity, however it was split into two separate bills on fears that the House of Representatives would not back protections of transgender workers with the same enthusiasm as it would for gays and lesbians. HR 3685 was introduced by Rep. Barney Frank (D-MA) in September 2007 and passed by the House in November 2007. It has not passed the Senate. HR 3686, dubbed the Baldwin Amendment after ENDA co-sponsor Rep. Tammy Baldwin (D-WI), contained the portion of HR 2015 pertaining to gender identity. It was debated in the House but not brought to a vote.

"President-elect Obama and Vice President-elect Biden, by explicitly rejecting the bigotry and intolerance of the past, are committing that gay, lesbian, and transgender professionals can serve in government without fear of discrimination," Anders added. "This is a critical next step in securing the basic rights of LGBT community."

The Obama/Biden campaign ran on an LGBT-positive platform, which includes support for the Matthew Shepard Act, a fully inclusive ENDA, federal recognition of same-sex couples, the right to sponsor a same-sex partner for American citizenship and the repeal of the military's "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" policy.

The transition team will operate on a budget of $12 million, of which Congress has appropriated $5.2 million, and the rest to be raised through individual donations. The team will employ 450 people and operate out of offices in Washington D.C. and Chicago.


Originally published on Wednesday November 12, 2008.

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