Jesse Helms introduces anti-Gay bill
Senator seeks to stop funding for executive order on discrimination

by Rhonda Smith

Jesse Helms says Clinton's executive order treats Gays "as a special class." (by Kristi K. Gasaway)

U.S. Sen. Jesse Helms (R-N.C.) introduced an anti-Gay bill last month that seeks to prohibit the use of federal funds to enforce an executive order that President Clinton signed last May barring discrimination based on sexual orientation in federal civilian employment.

Clinton’s Executive Order 13087 added the term "sexual orientation" to an existing executive order that bars discrimination against federal civilian workers based on race, color, religion, sex, national origin, disabilities, and age. The order survived a GOP-led attempt to overturn it in August in a development that proponents described as historic, because it marked the first time either house of Congress voted to support a policy that protects Gay workers from job discrimination.

"This bill," said Helms, introducing the bill Jan. 19, "attempts to make sure that President Clinton is not allowed to do by Executive Order what Congress has declined to enact in the past two congressional sessions namely, to treat homosexuals as a special class protected under various titles of the Civil Rights Act of 1964."

The staunchly conservative senator said Clinton’s executive order infringes upon the constitutional rights of federal employees who wish to express moral and spiritual objections to "the homosexual lifestyle." In addition, he said, the order prevents federal employees who have such objections to homosexuality from expressing their beliefs "without running afoul of what amounts to a workplace speech code."

"The House has already spoken on this issue," said Rebecca Isaacs, political director at the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force. "It’s more of the same from Jesse Helms. I wish he would find something new to do and quit attacking the Gay, Lesbian, bisexual, and transgendered community."

Helms entitled his bill, S.45, the "Freedom of Speech Act." The proposed bill stipulates that no federal agency, officer, or employee of the executive branch shall "issue, implement, or enforce" any policy that creates an additional class of individuals protected against discrimination in federal employment, other than those groups already identified by federal law for such protection.

The measure also calls for prohibiting the use of federal funds "to issue, implement, or enforce" Executive Order 13087. Funds to enforce the policy would come from the general operating budgets of agencies such as the U.S. Office of Personnel Management and the U.S. Office of Special Counsel, a White House official said.

In 1994, Helms offered two amendments similar to the current proposal. One called for prohibiting the U.S. Department of Agriculture from using federal funds for programs intended to present homosexuality in a positive or neutral light. (The USDA has a policy, which pre-dates the Clinton executive order, banning discrimination against employees based on their sexual orientation, and the agency’s Gay, Lesbian, and Bisexual Employees organization (GLOBE) receives official recognition by the department.) The other amendment called for hearings for employees who expressed personal opinions that conflicted with the USDA’s policies on homosexuality. The latter amendment was based on reports that an equal employment opportunity manager at the USDA was transferred to another position after he expressed an anti-Gay view to a television reporter.

Both measures died when a House-Senate conference committee dropped them. The following year, Helms introduced separate bills addressing the same issues but they, too, never garnered enough support.

Kitti Durham, president of the federal Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual Employees Organization (GLOBE), said Helms’s current proposal continues "unfounded attacks on productive members of the federal employee community."

"I will note that there are no co-sponsors of this bill," she said, "which signals there is no support for it."

Even though Helms appears poised to use political tactics during the 106th Congress that have failed more than once in the past, Richard Socarides, a special assistant to President Clinton and his liaison with the Gay community, said the senator must be taken seriously.

"We don’t know how aggressively he plans to push this," Socarides said. "It’s too early to predict whether this is a mini-attack on us or a predictor of things to come. But we are still fully committed to the executive order the president issued."

Socarides also said the U.S. Office of Personnel Management is preparing to embark on an education campaign among personnel directors and administrators in the federal government shortly "to make sure everyone knows this executive order exists and what employees’ rights are."

This might provoke Helms, he said, and push him and others to try to block this effort.

"But we will not be deterred," Socarides said. "President Clinton feels this will very much be part of the legacy he leaves behind."

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This article appeared in the issue of:
February 26, 1999