President vows to sign executive order to protect transgender workers

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The Obamas celebrate LGBT Pride at the White House.

President Barack Obama announced on June 30 that he has instructed his staff to prepare not one but two executive orders intended to protect LGBT workers.

One order, previously announced, would ban federal contractors from discriminating on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity.

A second order, announced during the White House Pride celebration in the East Room, would ban workplace discrimination based on gender identity in the federal government.

The promise won praise, even as it was seen as largely symbolic — two other measures provide protections for transgender employees of the federal government. In 2009, Obama signed a memorandum saying the federal government would not discriminate against workers that was viewed as blanket protections. And last year, the EEOC ruled that the Civil Rights Act of 1964 provision barring discrimination based on gender also applies to gender identity.

The president, in remarks to dozens of people gathered for the celebration, said, "The majority of Fortune 500 companies already have nondiscrimination policies to protect their employees because it's the right thing to do and because many say it helps to retain and attract the best talent. And I agree. So if Congress won't act, I will."

Until recently and despite pleas from LGBT civil rights advocates, Obama been reluctant to issue executive orders that would accomplish some of what would be covered by pending federal civil rights legislation. The U.S. Senate has passed the Employment Non-Discrimination Act, which would generally ban bias based on sexual orientation and gender identity in workplaces larger than 15 employees.

But ENDA has stalled in the GOP-controlled House, where Speaker John Boehner has refused to allow a vote on the bill.

So the president directed his staff to research and write the executive orders, which would cover federal employees and federal contract employees.

The Human Rights Campaign, after the Pride celebration, praised the president's announcement of a "crucial and historic measure."