Obama to sign order banning federal contractors from discriminating against LGBT people

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President Barack Obama.

President Barack Obama plans to sign an executive order banning bias based on sexual orientation and gender identity by federal contractors.

Activists have called for such an order since Republicans in the U.S. House will not allow a vote on federal legislation that would ban discrimination against LGBT people in the workplace. The Senate has passed the Employment Non-Discrimination, which would provide workplace protections, banning bias based on sexual orientation and gender identity. But Speaker John Boehner has said he will not allow a vote in the House.

While the executive order would be limited to federal contractors, that would mean protections for millions of workers, according to the Human Rights Campaign. Federal contractors employ more than 20 percent of the American workforce.

According to the Williams Institute, an executive order would protect 11 million more American workers from discrimination based on sexual orientation and up to 16.5 million more American workers from discrimination based on gender identity.

At HRC, the nation's largest LGBT civil rights group, Chad Griffin said, "The executive order will also require companies that have historically turned a blind eye to workplace discrimination to change their policies."

For example, he said, "Exxon Mobil Corporation — whose shareholders voted for the 17th time to reject an anti-discrimination policy for its LGBT workers just days ago — will now have to provide non-discrimination protections to its LGBT employees and prospective hires. Year after year, Exxon has held the lowest spot in HRC's Corporate Equality Index, with a score of negative 25 out of a possible 100 points. No other company has ever received a negative score.

"Not only will this order protect LGBT workers in companies like these—it will also speed up the pace of change by declaring that our government will only award taxpayer dollars to companies with pro-equality workplace policies."

Wisconsin Congressman Mark Pocan, who is gay, issued a statement mid-day on June 16. The Democrat from Madison said, "I am pleased to see President Obama take action to ban employment discrimination by federal contractors. This protection for LGBT workers is long overdue.  Congress must still act on the Employer Non-Discrimination Act (ENDA) to ensure all workers are protected from discrimination based on sexual orientation or gender identity.  We need to give LGBT workers a fair shot to get ahead in life by making sure employers cannot fire, harass, deny a raise, or refuse to hire someone based on sexual orientation or gender identity."

There was more reaction throughout the afternoon.

ACLU executive director Anthony D. Romero said, "For more than 70 years, presidents, both Democratic and Republican, have used executive orders to eradicate taxpayer-funded discrimination in the workplace. Issuing this executive order will build upon a tradition that dates back to President Roosevelt’s 1941 order conditioning defense contracts on an agreement not to discriminate based on race, creed, color, or national origin.  Barring discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity with taxpayer funds by all federal contractors will begin to undo one of the last vestiges of legally sanctioned discrimination."

At Lambda Legal, attorney Greg Nevins said, "We applaud the Obama administration's step towards protecting LGBT employees of federal contractors. Like many presidents before him, President Obama is taking action to ensure that taxpayer money is not wasted on workplace discrimination or harassment."

One of the organizations pressing hardest for the executive order has been GetEqual, a grassroots activist group.

GetEqual activists frequently call attention to the fact that Obama, during the 2008 campaign, promised to act to ban bias based on sexual orientation and gender identity in the workplace.

"We're thrilled that the White House is finally taking action on LGBT workplace discrimination — action that is long overdue, but that will finally begin to address the enormous hurdles that LGBT individuals face in finding and keeping a job in this country," said co-director Heather Cronk. "It is now vitally important for all of us to insist that this executive order, when eventually signed by the president, does not include religious exemptions that would permit taxpayer dollars to be spent on discrimination. We will continue to be vigilant about this important aspect of the executive order — LGBT Americans need these protections immediately, and without the gaping holes that exemptions would create."

Jerame Davis of Pride at Work, in his response, kept the focus on Congress and the need to pass the Employment Non-Discrimination Act.

"Only 18 states currently ban discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity while three other states ban discrimination based on sexual orientation alone. With marriage equality sweeping the nation, it is unconscionable that gays and lesbians could still be fired for putting a photo of their legal spouse on their desk at work," Davis said.