President Barack Obama has signed an executive order banning federal contractors from discriminating on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity. The measure offers protection to about a fifth of the U.S. workforce.
The president, in the ceremony in the East Room of the White House on July 21, also prohibited discrimination based on gender identity in federal employment.
Obama arrived to the East Room shortly after 10:30 a.m. He was joined at the front of a crowd by Virginia Gov. Terry McAuliffe, deputy Labor Secretary Chris Lu and others, including LGBT equality advocates.
"Thanks to your passionate advocacy and the irrefutable rightness of your cause, our government — government of the people, by the people, and for the people — will become just a little bit fairer," the president said.
As the president signed the measure, two blue screens read "Opportunity for All."
Advocates who have long called on the president to sign the orders in the absence of broader federal legislation heralded the executive actions as profoundly consequential.
The order protects transgender federal employees from workplace discrimination by amending an order issued by President Bill Clinton banning sexual orientation discrimination within the federal workforce.
"America’s federal contracts should not subsidize discrimination against the American people," the president said.
In the same order, Obama set standards for federal contractors, which employ 20 percent of the U.S. workforce. In the section that applies to federal contractors, the president amended Executive Order 11246, first signed by President Lyndon B. Johnson in 1965, which includes race, color, religion, sex and national origin.
"For years — decades even — Congress has been stymied in partisan politics, unable or unwilling to do the right thing and pass nondiscrimination legislation for gay and transgender workers. Today, President Obama brought the LGBTQ community one step closer to real equality. The executive order — especially in omitting a general religious exemption — will ensure that, at the very least, gay and transgender federal contract workers are protected from on-the-job discrimination," said Randi Weingarten of the American Federation of Teachers.
At the Courage Campaign, executive chairman Paul Song said, “Today our nation is taking another important step towards creating a more perfect union.
Added Chad Griffin of the Human Rights Campaign, “With this action, President Obama has cemented his legacy as a transformative leader. Consistently, this administration has taken unprecedented and historic executive actions to advance LGBT equality in this country and around the world.”
Griffin said the focus now shifts to the House of Representatives, where Republicans have blocked any progress on passing the Employment Non-Discrimination Act, which would ban workplace bias across the country.
“A bipartisan coalition of Americans is standing behind LGBT equality, a bipartisan coalition of our elected leaders should be doing the same.” Griffin said.
The president, before signing the order, also urged advocates to continue to pressure Congress to act on ENDA, which has passed the U.S. Senate. ENDA would ban workplace bias based on gender identity and sexual orientation by employers or more than 15 people. The measure currently contains a broad religious exemption that is not supported by a growing number of civil rights groups.
Obama observed that employment discrimination based on sexual orientation is illegal in 18 states and that more than 200 local governments ban bias based on sexual orientation in employment, as do a majority of Fortune 500 companies. But, the president emphasized, more states allow same-sex marriage than prohibit workplace discrimination against gays.
White House guidance on the order:
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