NEW YORK -- To a raucous embrace, President Barack Obama told gay donors Tuesday that American society and its laws have advanced the cause of gay rights over the past 10 years, but said the job was hardly over in the United States and especially abroad.
He received a loud standing ovation when he declared that he had directed the White House to prepare an executive order barring discrimination by federal contractors on the basis of sexual orientation or gender identity. The White House announced the initiative Monday, a long-sought measure in the gay community that Obama initially had resisted.
"It’s not just laws that are changing, it’s hearts and minds," he said at a Democratic National Committee fundraising dinner for gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender donors.
Obama was courting high-dollar Democratic contributors in New York, also headlining an event for a super PAC like the ones he once decried and appearing at a dinner at the home of Vogue editor Anna Wintour.
Obama’s attendance at the three fundraisers underscores his popularity as a draw for big donors and his utility in an election year building up the treasuries of the Democratic Party. Earlier Tuesday, Obama was in Pittsburgh promoting his economic policies and drawing contrasts with congressional Republicans, another midterm presidential task aimed at helping Democrats.
The dinner and the fundraiser for the Senate Majority PAC were closed to the media.
The dinner at New York’s Gotham Hall came on the same day that the Senate approved two openly gay Obama nominees for federal judgeships.
The president got a rousing reception at the gala for gay donors in response to his directive for an anti-discrimination executive order, even if it only applies to federal contractors.
Obama lacks authority to extend that protection to all Americans, but the order being drafted by the White House would affect about 14 million workers whose employers or states currently do not prohibit workplace discrimination against gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender individuals. The scope of the measure was tabulated by the Williams Institute at UCLA Law School, which studies sexual orientation and gender identity law and public policy.
Obama had resisted signing the order in hopes Congress would pass a broader non-discrimination measure that would apply to nearly all employers. While the Democratic-controlled Senate passed the legislation last year, the measure has languished in the Republican-led House and there is little sign that lawmakers will take it up in an election year.
He urged supporters to keep pressure on Congress, noting that there are more states that allow same-sex marriage than have laws specifically protecting gays against workplace discrimination. And he said Americans should not forget strong anti-gay sentiments in some countries abroad.
"We can’t stop. We have to keep fighting, we have to keep fighting for the human rights of people around the world," he said.
Obama had once vigorously objected to political groups like the Senate Majority PAC that can take unlimited donations. Once primarily conduits for Republican or conservative big money, such super PACs have now been embraced by liberals and Democrats. Obama’s appearance caps what has been a gradual acceptance of such groups.
In addition to the Senate Majority PAC, Obama has committed to attend in events for the House Majority PAC, which works to elect Democrats to the House. The super PAC announced Tuesday that Obama will travel to New York to attend a fundraiser for the group on July 17 and will also headline a San Francisco fundraiser on July 23.
White House spokesman Jay Carney said that while Obama participates in super PAC events, he does not actively solicit money for the groups.
In Pittsburgh earlier Tuesday, Obama pledged to boost American manufacturing and to give entrepreneurs greater access to production tools that would help bring their ideas to fruition.
Obama visited that venerable steel manufacturing city to showcase a workshop chain called TechShop, a variation on a tool lending library that provides high-end instruments to hobbyists, tinkerers and startup businesses to help them realize their innovations. The tour was designed to draw attention to Obama’s own plan to make more government technology and assets available to the private sector.
"I can’t rent the space shuttle out to you," he joked. "But there are areas where we can in fact enhance what is already being done by companies like TechShop."
AP White House Correspondent Julie Pace contributed to this report.