LGBT federal employees and employees of federal contractors can breathe a sigh of relief today, as President Obama signed an executive order barring discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity by companies that contract with the federal government and adding gender identity to the existing executive order banning discrimination based on sexual orientation for federal employees. According to the Human Rights Campaign, in the executive order he signed, President Obama explicitly protects transgender federal employees from workplace discrimination by amending an order issued by President Bill Clinton banning sexual orientation discrimination within the federal workforce. In a second order, President Obama will set strong new standards for federal contractors, which employ 20 percent of the American workforce. In so doing, the Obama administration has guaranteed that 14 million more American workers will be protected from discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation or gender identity.
During his campaign President Obama vowed to sign the executive order, but has spent much of the past few years instead pushing for Congress to pass the Employment Non-Discrimination Act (ENDA), which would make it illegal for all employers to fire or refuse to hire someone based on their sexual orientation or gender identity. In a historic vote, the United States Senate passed ENDA, but its chances of success in the house are slim with an anti-equality leadership.
Currently only a handful of states offer anti-discrimination protections for LGBT workers. In 29 states a worker can be fired for the sole reason of being gay or bisexual. In 32 states, there is no explicit law banning discrimination based on gender identity.
Of note, today’s executive order does not include new religious exemption language, relieving the concern of LGBT rights advocates. Last week, 54 law professors from across the country, including several ACS members and contributors penned a letter to President Obama urging him not to cave under pressure from anti-equality conservatives by including religious exemption language in any executive order providing nondiscrimination guarantees for LGBT employees of federal contractors.
President Obama’s signing of the executive order adds to the long list of victories for equality that the LGBT community has been celebrating over the last several years, and in particular since last year’s landmark Supreme Court decisions striking down Section 3 of the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) and putting an end to California’s Prop. 8.