Obama quietly pushes transgender, gay status bill

Neil Munro White House Correspondent
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President Barack Obama is narrow-casting his support for a far-reaching Senate bill that would pressure communities and individuals to ignore differences between homosexuals, transgender people and heterosexuals in education, work and culture.

He touted his support for the bill Sunday in an article in the liberal Huffington Post and in a Monday Tweet.

“Congress needs to pass #ENDA to create federal protections for LGBT workers,” said the Tweet.

His Huffington Post article had only 2,578 shares by 2:30 p.m. Monday.

But he isn’t taking his support on the road, partly because the bill may undermine his support among suburbanites, Latinos and African-Americans.

Democrats in the Senate are expected to vote Monday on the Employment Non-Discrimination Act, which would limit employers from considering differences between heterosexual, gay and transgender job-applicants or employees.

Roughly four percent of the population is gay or lesbian. The share of transgender people is below one percent.

The GOP-majority House is unlikely to back the bill. House Speaker John Boehner said Nov. that he has long opposed the bill’s provisions because of its impact on companies.

A similar measure failed in 1996, because the bill packaged “sexual orientation” protections for gays with a set of very different but sweeping new rules to boost people who want to switch their sexual appearance and behavior from one gender to another.

Those “gender identity” legal rights would restrict the ability of communities, civic organizations and individuals to recognize routine gender-related differences in the preferences of girls and boys, women and men, say critics.

Seventeen states have passed similar rules.

The bill seems to have won sixty votes — enough for passage — after Nevada Republican Sen. Dean Heller joined several other GOP senators in backing the bill.

“This legislation raises the federal standards to match what we have come to expect in Nevada, which is that discrimination must not be tolerated under any circumstance,” said a short Heller statement.

The bill is opposed by Heritage Action, Ralph Reed’s Faith and Freedom Coalition and other conservative groups.

A Sept. 16 poll by TargetPoint consulting for the bill’s advocates says 13 percent of Republicans would campaign against politicians who support the bill. The poll showed majority support for the bill when it was presented as a workplace fairness measure, rather than as a federal regulation of the nation’s culture.

The bill is supported by progressives, and by groups seeking greater legal rights and social status for gays. They’re represented by a coalition titled “Americans for Workplace Opportunity.”

The workplace opportunity angle was pushed by Obama’s closest aide, Valerie Jarrett, in a Monday Tweet. “Apple CEO @tim_cook supports #ENDA because it’s good for business — he’s right!” she declared.

“If our coworkers cannot be themselves in the workplace, they certainly cannot be their best selves,” said Cook. “When that happens, we undermine people’s potential and deny ourselves and our society the full benefits of those individuals’ talents.”

For many companies, the issue creates few or no difficulties because their employers are focused on maximizing commercial productivity.

However, laws that restrict recognition of gender differences creates problems for retailers, bars, religious employers, schools and others who deal closely with other customers, students and kids.

The bill’s political vulnerability is its impact on schools, said Andrea Lafferty, president of the Traditional Values Coalition.

By telling schools they can’t recognize the distinctions between boys and girls, “they’re trying to create [a culture that doesn’t recognize] sex [differences] — where there are no boys, no girls, everything is fluid, and you can be a boy one day, a girl one day,” she said.

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