Obama’s Quiet Fight to End
LGBT Discrimination

March 9, 2016

One look at the ingredients that go into Ben & Jerry’s ice cream and you’ll know that we love chunks and swirls of all kinds. The same goes for love – the secret ingredient in every scoop of our ice cream. We love love of all kinds, and that’s why we’ve been supporting LGBT rights for decades now, and why we were so overjoyed when the Supreme Court decided in favor of marriage equality last summer.


But despite all the progress, marriage was only one hurdle to overcome before we can declare that LGBT folks have the same rights as anyone else. Right now, in the 31 states lacking clear protections against LGBT discrimination, people can still be denied housing, be fired from their workplace or denied public services based on who they love. We support the Equality Act as the way to end this once and for all. But Obama? He isn’t waiting on that piece of legislation to pass. He’s taking action now.


Who Said Being Sneaky Was a Bad Thing?

The president is already at work behind the scenes, getting this next step rolling in his own sneaky way. It’s not a spotlight moment like when he became the first sitting president to declare support for LGBT rights, or when he was the first to use the term “transgender” in a State of the Union address. His work with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) may be behind the scenes, but it’s setting up a profound legal reinterpretation of LGBT rights that might just lead to the same outcome as the Equality Act.


The One Word That Could Change Everything

Obama’s strategy hinges on a reinterpretation of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the Fair Housing Act, which were set up to prevent discrimination in the workplace, and in housing based on race, color, national origin, religion and sex. For years, LBGT activists have been arguing that the last protection, “sex,” should cover gender identity and and sexual orientation, including LGBT folks under the Civil Rights Act. In 2012, the EEOC, under Obama’s administration, agreed that the Civil Rights Act includes protection against gender identity discrimination, and just last year expanded that definition to include sexual orientation.

Now, the Justice Department has taken the same stance on gender identity and the Civil Rights Act. And with the EEOC as an influential advisory authority on housing issues, sexual orientation could be soon added, too.


What’s Next?

That may sound like a lot of legal mumbo jumbo, but what Obama has been doing could set up the conditions for a major legal case over how the Civil Rights Act applies to LGBT discrimination. And if that case ends up in the Supreme Court, the EEOC and the Justice Department signaling their support for protections based on gender identity (and hopefully soon sexual orientation) could have a major bearing on the outcome.

The result? We could see another landmark ruling that will once again make history for LGBT rights. We like what we’re seeing, POTUS!