Obama Signs Executive Order Barring LGBT Workforce Discrimination

By Julissa Catalan

On Monday, President Barack Obama signed an executive order protecting LGBT employees and federal contractors from workplace discrimination based on their “sexual orientation and gender identity.”

The language “sexual orientation and gender identity” was added to an already existing order signed by President George W. Bush in 2002, which prohibits federal contractors from discriminating against employees based on color, gender, national origin, race or religion.

“America’s federal contracts should not subsidize discrimination against the American people,” the President said during his opening remarks at the White House, just before signing the order. “I’m going to do what I can with the authority I have to act.”

The executive order is comprised of two parts: The first states that it is illegal to discharge an employee based on their sexual orientation or gender identity—specifically adding discrimination against transgender employees.

Federal contractors make up about 20 percent of the nation’s workforce, with 24,000 companies employing roughly 28 million workers.

Protection for federal contractors begins early next year, while protection for federal employees is effective immediately.

“In too many states and in too many workplaces, simply being gay, lesbian, bisexual or transgender can still be a fireable offense,” Obama said. “So I firmly believe that it’s time to address this injustice for every American.”

Obama did not add any language that allows religious exception—something the LGBT community has been in fear of following last month’s Supreme Court ruling in the Hobby Lobby case. The court ruled that privately owned companies with religious objections cannot be forced to provide birth-control coverage to employees.

However, the order does allow religiously affiliated federal contractors to prioritize hiring employees of their particular religion—Obama is keeping that language intact.

“Thanks to your passion and advocacy and the irrefutable rightness of your cause, our government—the government of the people, by the people and for the people—will become just a little bit fairer,” the President concluded.

Currently the Employment Non-Discrimination Act is pending approval from Congress, while it has already been passed by the Senate.

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