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Melissa Harris-Perry Tackles Trans Issues, Weiss Disputes Reid Over Mini-ENDA

Melissa Harris-Perry Tackles Trans Issues, Weiss Disputes Reid Over Mini-ENDA

by Karen Ocamb on April 16, 2012

I confess: I’ve been a fan of Melissa Harris-Perry since I first became acquainted with her through Rachel Maddow’s show on MSNBC. Her arguments are so cogent that even when I disagree, I grasp her point. She creates an environment in which a civilized discussion can occur – something she is now doing regularly on her own show on MSNBC weekends.

But Harris-Perry had a first this Sunday, devoting much of her show to a discussion of transgender issues. The first hour featured Gender Outlaw author Kate Bornstein, Mara Keisling, Executive Director of the National Center for Transgender Equality, and Mel Wymore to discuss a range of trans issues (See below). In the second segment, Keisling was joined by author Kai Wright, Joy-Ann Reid, Managing Director of The Grio, and Allison Kilkenny of Citizen Radio. That segment opened with a nod to “friend of the show” Metro Weekly and Chris Geidner’s exclusive report noting that in a 2008 political survey, Presidential candidate Barack Obama said he would support a federal contractor nondiscrimination policy as president. But recently, President Obama told LGBT leaders that he was not yet ready to sign an executive order to that effect. Harris-Perry noted the contradiction between Obama’s recent announcement from HUD banning sexual orientation and gender identity discrimination by any landlord that received HUD funding (with no religious exemption) while Obama refused to sign this employment executive order that was already OKed by his Labor Department.

Bilerico contributor Dr. Jillian T. Weiss has blogged about “the problems with the Administration’s illogical reasons for not signing the order.” In a Monday post, Weiss noted how Obama has “done more for the trans community than any previous President,”including how “the Department of Homeland Services, United States Citizenship and Immigration Services put out a new policy to more correctly recognize the gender of transgender people and to abide by marriage certificates issued by the state. That’s going to be a big help. The President and the Administration deserves a lot of credit for that one. That makes it all the more mysterious that the federal contractor Executive Order is something that is too hard to do.”

But then Weiss disputes MHP panelist Joy-Ann Reid, who Weiss said “gave a talking-to to the LGBT community, saying that ‘the LGBT community was a bit unfair to this Administration from the get-go,’ and implying that the LGBT community is being unfair in asking the Obama Administration to sign the federal contractor executive order. Oh, is that so?”

Weiss critiques Reid point by point – which I suggest we all bookmark to return to whenever we discuss ENDA and the federal contractors:

Joy-Ann Reid then weighed in, saying that she is a contrarian, even though she’s seen as being part of the liberal media, in that she believes the LGBT community was unfair to the Obama Administration from the get-go. When it came to Don’t Ask Don’t Tell, there was a request for an Executive Order to address the situation, which the President could not give because Don’t Ask Don’t Tell was enacted by federal statute, which the President had a responsibility to uphold. It was the responsibility of Congress to change, not that of the President. Well, actually, the President did take executive branch action to take the policy out of the Middle Ages and bring up to the standards of Admiral Nelson’s Royal Navy. So the argument that President Obama couldn’t take any executive action is simply wrong. He couldn’t overturn the law, true enough, but the executive branch interprets how to enforce. Just as it did with DOMA, declaring that it considered the law unconstitutional and stating that it would not defend the law.

She made the point that the President does not have a “magic wand,” and that these laws need to be done piece by piece, by Congress. That struck me as a bit condescending. I don’t envisage the President in a conical hat with a sprig of elderberry. But I do envisage him doing what he promised in writing to do in 2008. She noted that the housing Executive Order was possible because the subject of the order is those receiving federal housing money. Federal contractors, she argued, are different because there are some who have been “grandfathered in,” that you couldn’t just get rid of. “How would you replace General Dynamics?” she said.

Guess what? General Dynamics is already on board with not discriminating based on sexual orientation or gender identity. And so are most of the other major federal contractors. We will not need to worry about “replacing” them. It’s extremely unlikely that a federal contractor that makes millions or billions from public contracts is going to take its marbles and go away if they’re asked to include sexual orientation and gender identity in their EEOs. And what does it mean to say that contractors are “grandfathered in,” by the way? I don’t know, but I’d like to find out.

As far as Executive branch action being a problem for Administration, it was no less than Melody Barnes, the Assistant to the President and Director of the White House Domestic Policy Council, who said that the President was committed to moving forward by Executive branch actions because the White House could not control legislative actions:

      “At the same time, even though the President shares that frustration, they have been able to take many steps forward, advancing the ball through executive action. Some of those have come in collaboration with the community, which they believe is very important. One of the recent examples is the memo the President sent to HHS on hospital visitation with regard to the LGBT community, to make sure that no one who is in a hospital has to go through a difficult or devastating experience without the support of their loved ones. The HHS Secretary then put out a proposed rule and sent a letter to the Hospital Association, and followed up with calls to ask them to move forward with this even as the regulatory process was still ongoing.

     Similarly, there is action taking place at Housing and Urban Development with regard to grant recipients being required to follow state and local non-discrimination law. The State Department has taken action on passports for transgender individuals ensuring that a person going through gender transition can get their new gender reflected on their passport with appropriate certification. There was also removal of the HIV travel ban, which resulted in being able to bring a large HIV conference to the United States recently.

     These are some the ways in which they have been able to act using executive powers. This has also acted as a signal to the many executive branch agencies, to show them how they can move forward on taking action to ensure that members of the LGBT community can have access to the types of benefits that straight couples are able to access.”

Thus, just a little while ago, the Obama Administration was saying that it had no hand in legislation, and that it was committed to action through executive branch actions, but now we have Joy-Ann Reid saying that we’re going to lose General Dynamics if we do that. We have a promise in writing from a President saying I will do X — and now it is impossible to do X , because of some alleged grandfathering. My grandfather had some tall tales, let me tell you, but he would have been impressed by this one.

I also note that the Williams Institute of UCLA Law School (of which I am on the Advisory Board) issued a statement in response to the President’s spokesperson saying that the Administration wanted more research that this is the right thing to do. The Williams Institute, a well-respected think tank on LGBT legal and policy issues, said that extensive research already exists supporting the need, effectiveness, and stability of such an order.

No one called out Ms. Reid on the show regarding this less-than-thought-out argument, and I understand that it probably wasn’t the place to do so. But now I’d like to hear some answers. How is it the LGBT community is being unfair in expecting the President to keep his campaign promise?

I have great respect for Ms. Reid and her work at The Griot. She should rethink this argument.

 See for yourself:


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