Thirty-seven U.S. senators recently sent President Barack Obama a letter urging him to sign an executive order that would ban anti-LGBT discrimination by federal contractors.
The order is seen as a way to provide some protections for LGBT workers until a change in the makeup of Congress, seen as necessary to advance the long pending Employment Non-Discrimination Act.
Some states, including Wisconsin, ban workplace discrimination against LGBT people, but in 29 states it is legal to fire or refuse promotion to someone based on sexual orientation or gender identity. There also is no federal law banning employment discrimination against LGBT people.
An executive order would not cover all employees in the United States, but it could cover a fifth of them. Federal contractors, who earn about $500 billion a year from federal taxpayers, employ more than 20 percent of the U.S. workforce, according to the Williams Institute at the UCLA School of Law. So an executive order would protect about 16 million workers from discrimination based on sexual orientation or gender identity.
“It’s outrageous that in the year 2013, it is still legal to fire someone based on who they love,” said U.S. Sen. Jeff Merkley, who circulated the letter, which was signed by Tammy Baldwin of Wisconsin. “The president can protect millions of workers from unfair discrimination with the stroke of a pen. I’m pleased that 36 of my colleagues have joined together to push for more equality in the workplace.”
The Human Rights Campaign says polls show 73 percent of Americans support an executive order.