For those engaged in the fight for LGBT protections in the workplace, the White House revealed some very big news today. Here’s the story from the Washington Post…
President Obama will sign an executive order prohibiting federal contractors from discriminating against gays, lesbians and others on the basis of their sexual orientation – an election-year move that follows years of pressure by gay rights organizations.
Obama’s decision to proceed with the executive order, announced Monday by the White House, immediately delighted gay rights groups, even as it signaled that Obama doesn’t believe broader action by Congress is likely. Obama is set to address a fundraiser hosted by the Democratic National Committee’s lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender council Tuesday in New York.
“The President has directed his staff to prepare for his signature an Executive Order that prohibits federal contractors from discriminating on the basis of sexual orientation or gender identity,” a White House official said in a statement. “The action would build upon existing protections, which generally prohibit federal contractors and subcontractors from discriminating in employment decisions on the basis of race, color, religion, sex or national origin. This is consistent with the President’s views that all Americans, LGBT or not, should be treated with dignity and respect.”
White House officials didn’t detail the timing of the executive order, which Obama originally promised to pursue in his 2008 campaign. For years since, he has declined to issue the order, citing other administration efforts to advance gay rights and a desire to avoid interfering with efforts in Congress to pass the broader Employment Non-Discrimination Act, which would ban discrimination against gays in the workplace. The Senate has passed ENDA, but the House has declined.
This one action from the Obama Administration is estimated to extend protections to approximately 16 million Americans working as Federal employees, or for companies with Federal Contracts. Equal Rights groups have been working for this Executive Order for a long time, and are simply thrilled at the prospect of the unprecedented move. The Human Rights Campaign had this to say…
“By issuing an executive order prohibiting federal contractors from discriminating against LGBT people, the President will not only create fairer workplaces across the country, he will demonstrate to Congress that adopting federal employment protections for LGBT people is good policy and good for business. The White House statement today is promising, and we look forward to seeing the details of the executive order,” said HRC President Chad Griffin.
As Houston just learned from our own equal rights battle, the devil is definitely in the details. But given how little is getting done in Congress this year, the President’s actions on this issue will be a welcome move for American workers, and set a new standard by which all companies will have to compete. Of course when it comes to LGBT issues, President Obama has been quite good at setting new standards. Under his administration, Congress was able to repeal the discriminatory Don’t Ask Don’t Tell practice of the US military, and with a little prodding from Vice President Biden, came out in support of marriage equality. Hopefully this bold move on workplace protections will generate some motion from the House and Senate as well.