The White House announced today that President Obama plans to sign an executive order that prohibits federal contractors from discriminating on the basis of sexual orientation or gender identity.
This is a huge step forward in protecting the rights of LGBTQ federal employees, particularly because the Employment Non-Discrimination Act (ENDA), which was passed inthe Senate last November, has had its progress stalled. President Obama previously decided not to sign an executive order on this subject in 2012, presumably because he endorsed ENDA and believed that it would pass.
The executive order is simply the latest effort the Obama administration has made in ensuring the rights of LGBTQ Americans. In his October 1, 2011 speech at the Human Rights Campaign’s annual national dinner, President Obama stated:
Every single American—gay, straight, lesbian, bisexual, transgender—every single American deserves to be treated equally in the eyes of the law and in the eyes of our society.
Following and complimenting such historic moments as repealing Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell, ending the legal defense of the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA), and signing legislation to prevent hate crimes, this executive order is a historic act that, according to Human Rights Campaign President Chad Griffin, “will demonstrate to Congress that adopting federal employment protections for LGBT people is good policy and good for business,” particularly because there is currently:
no federal law or regulation that explicitly bans workplace discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity. And in 29 states, it’s legal under state law to fire or refuse employment to a person based on sexual orientation—and 32 states lack explicit laws banning discrimination based on gender identity.
Unfortunately, the new executive order only prohibits companies that contract with the federal government from engaging in employment discrimination. Companies in the private sector who do not contract with the federal government can still discriminate based on sexual orientation and gender identity. Obviously more work needs to be done.
Simone Lieban Levine is a rising junior at St. Mary’s College of Maryland and an intern for Ms. Follow her on Twitter: @though_she_be.