As Obama Directive on LGBT Discrimination Nears, Top HIV/AIDS Employment Advocate Expresses Cautious Hope

Mark Misrok
Mark Misrok

This month, the White House announced that President Barack Obama would sign an executive order to prohibit federal contractors from discriminating on the basis of sexual orientation or gender identity. The announcement follows pressure from LGBT leaders in the wake of an earlier vow by the president to use his power of office to get around the congressional stalemate blocking progress of key legislation.

The day after the announcement, the president spoke at length about the executive order and a range of HIV, LGBT and social justice issues at a fundraiser sponsored by the Democratic National Committee's LGBT Leadership Council. asked Mark Misrok, president of National Working Positive Coalition (NWPC), to reflect on the president's speech at the event, and what the executive order could mean for the HIV/AIDS community. Misrok is one of the leaders of the HIV Economic Empowerment Campaign, a joint effort sponsored by NWPC, HIV Prevention Justice Alliance and Positive Women's Network of the United States of America.

Misrok said he hailed the announcement, but also warned that it was just one piece of a larger puzzle. "The executive order prohibiting discrimination by federal contractors on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity is exciting and important, extending protections to as many as 16 million people. This is an important brick in the structure needed to seal out the elements for many LGBT people," he said. "It will absolutely help, but we have to do more to approach leveling the employment opportunity playing field for many within our community who are most at risk of HIV infection, and of poor HIV health outcomes related to economic status."

Noting that "employment is the only route out of poverty to increased independence for almost everyone," Misrok added that "the White House Office of National AIDS Policy, with Douglas Brooks as its director, identifies employment as key to achieving the HIV health and prevention outcomes defined as possible now, but not yet nearly achieved. Steps need to be taken to change the poverty prescription for people living with HIV, including those described in the National HIV/AIDS Strategy, especially cross-sector collaboration and coordination -- including federal, state and local government programs, community-based organizations and networks of people living with HIV, and other allies.

"The White House Office of National AIDS Policy can provide landmark leadership in maximizing the effectiveness of existing and potential HIV employment initiatives, once and forever changing the course of historical inaction against the fuel long-term poverty, unemployment and under-employment have provided to the HIV epidemic in the U.S.," Misrok said.

According to Politico, the actual issuance of the executive order may come by the end of the month. That is when the Supreme Court is expected to rule on the Hobby Lobby case, which addresses the religious exemption for businesses to claim leeway from Obamacare's contraception mandate.

"If the court were to issue a broad exemption, LGBT advocates worry it could have implications for their community as well, by potentially enabling employers to justify discrimination by saying their religion does not approve of LGBT people," Politico explains. In that case, "sexual orientation and gender identity will be written into the existing executive order language about workplace discrimination in a way that addresses the decision."

Julie "JD" Davids is the managing editor for and