The Moral Imperative of Non-Discrimination
Amidst the suffering and conflict occurring in too many parts of the world, the White House delivered good news and something to celebrate this week. Rabbi David Saperstein and I were privileged to be in the East Room of the White House yesterday morning to watch President Barack Obama sign an Executive Order prohibiting all companies that receive a contract from the federal government from discriminating against LGBT employees and adding gender identity to federal government’s current prohibition of employment discrimination based on sexual orientation.
In a press release praising this action, Rabbi Saperstein noted, “It is our moral imperative to build a fair society where all people are judged by the merit of their work and not by their sexual orientation or gender identity.”
In fact, Rabbi Saperstein was right next to the president as he signed, a spot well-deserved given his counsel to the White House and to key groups pushing this Executive Order. The Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism, which he directs, has been a leader in the faith community on the Employment Non-Discrimination Act (ENDA), which is still stalled in the House after passing the Senate for the first time ever last November.
Sometimes Congress or the White House makes law that is more symbolic than practical in advancing social justice. Yesterday, however, marked an undeniably concrete step toward LGBT equality, as it means that lesbian and gay employees of federal contractors in 29 states — and transgender employees of federal contractors in 32 states — now have workplace protection that was sorely lacking.
Last week, I was in Paris in a meeting with Stéphane Beder of the French Federation of Liberal Judaism to discuss the recent events of violence towards synagogues and Jews in Paris. One question he asked me stood out: “How do you stay motivated to work on social justice issues when progress is so slow?”
Moments like yesterday’s signing ceremony are those that inspire and motivate me. I will never forget the joy I felt as I listened to the President of the United States state these words:
“We’ve got an obligation to make sure that the country we love remains a place where no matter who you are, or what you look like, or where you come from, or how you started out, or what your last name is, or who you love – no matter what, you can make it in this country.”