Obama will extend job protections to LGBT workers

McClatchy Washington BureauJune 16, 2014 

Obama Poland

U.S. President Barack Obama at Belweder Palace in Warsaw, Poland, Tuesday, June 3, 2014.


— The White House said Monday that President Barack Obama plans to sign an executive order prohibiting federal contractors from discriminating on the basis of sexual orientation or gender identity, elating gay rights activists, who’ve been pressing him to make the move since he was elected in 2008.

The administration says the order adds to existing protections, which prohibit federal contractors and subcontractors from discriminating on the basis of race, color, religion, sex or national origin and is “consistent with the president’s views that all Americans, LGBT (lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender) or not, should be treated with dignity and respect.”

The White House offered no timetable for when Obama will sign the order nor estimated how many people it will affect. But advocates who’ve championed the cause for six years hailed the decision and said the president’s commitment to the issue would be part of his legacy.

“This is a historic announcement,” said Anthony Romero, the the executive director of the ACLU, who said that Obama, who in 2012 announced his support for gay marriage, “has done more for the struggle for LGBT equality than all previous presidents combined. “

The move, coming a day before the president headlines the 15th annual Democratic National Committee LGBT Leadership Council’s fundraiser in New York, is likely to energize gay voters in advance of November’s midterm elections.

“There’s no doubt when the president has taken principled positions in the past they have invigorated progressives,” said Fred Sainz, a spokesman at the Human Rights Campaign, an LGBT advocacy group, which called the decision the culmination of six years of advocacy by gay and civil rights leaders. “It’s clear and compelling proof that these are no longer moral decisions, but politically advantageous as well.”

An activist interrupted first lady Michelle Obama last June at a DNC fundraiser in Washington to demand that her husband sign such an executive order.

The president had resisted signing the measure, with the White House noting in the past that it would be more effective for Congress to pass a more sweeping piece of legislation, the Employment Non-Discrimination Act. The legislation cleared the Senate last November but hasn’t advanced in the House of Representatives.

Often stymied by congressional opposition, Obama pledged at the start of 2014 that it would be a “year of action,” and he decided to act now because Congress had not, White House officials said.

“We’re going to continue to work with Congress, but the president is not just going to sit around and wait for Congress to take action,” White House Principal Deputy Press Secretary Josh Earnest said aboard Air Force One as Obama returned from a weekend in California.

News reports over the weekend noted that while in California, the president worked out mornings at a gym near the Rancho Mirage home where the first family stayed with White House decorator Michael Smith and his partner, James Costos, the American ambassador to Spain.

The order will apply only to companies that contract with the federal government, but Human Rights Campaign President Chad Griffin said federal contractors employed more than 20 percent of the American workforce _ 28 million people _ and collected around $500 billion in federal contracts every year.

The order might help “demonstrate to Congress that adopting federal employment protections for LGBT people is good policy and good for business,” Griffin said.

It’s legal in 29 states to fire or refuse employment to a person based on sexual orientation, Griffin said, and 32 states lack explicit laws banning discrimination based on gender identity.

The Williams Institute at the University of California, Los Angeles, School of Law, a research organization for LGBT issues, estimated that an executive order would protect 11 million more American workers from discrimination based on sexual orientation and up to 14 million more workers based on gender identity. It also found that 86 percent of the top 50 federal contractors prohibit discrimination based on sexual orientation, and 61 percent prohibit discrimination based on gender identity.

Obama’s decision is likely to increase pressure on him to take executive action on immigration, particularly to stem the number of deportations.

“We are glad Obama is using his pen and phone more often to provide relief to communities across the county in the absence of a working Congress,” said Erika Andiola, a co-director of the DREAM Action Coalition, which advocates for youth who are in the country illegally. “Just like the LGBT community, we undocumented immigrants across the country need his bold action immediately.”

Email: lclark@mcclatchydc.com; Twitter: @lesleyclark.

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