President Obama has asked his staff to prepare an executive order banning employment discrimination based on sexual orientation or gender identity for employers who contract with the government, a White House official confirmed Monday.
The order will only apply to federal contractors, but it is poised to be the largest expansion of LGBT workplace protections in history since federal contractors make up nearly one-quarter of the workforce. There is no existing federal policy that protects LGBT persons from employment discrimination, but nine out of ten voters falsely believe that there is, and about 30 states don’t prohibit discrimination based on either sexual orientation or gender identity.
Specifics about the order are not known, but it will most likely amend an executive order issued by President Lyndon Johnson that barred federal contractors from discriminating based on race, sex, religion, or national origin in their employment decisions.
The administration has long held off on taking such an action, despite repeated calls to do so from LGBT groups and Democratic lawmakers, because it wanted to pressure Congress to pass the Employment Non-Discrimination Act (ENDA). That act would apply to private employers, and it passed the Senate last fall. But after Speaker of the House John Boehner (R-OH) made clear that the Republican-dominated House will not pass the bill this year, the administration once again decided to take matters into its own hands.
Obama has already signed several executive orders to get around Congress’s refusal to pass popular proposals that benefit working people. On Equal Pay Day, the president signed an order that strengthens efforts to close the gender pay gap for federal contractors, and earlier this year he ordered raising the minimum wage to $10.10 an hour for new federal contract employees.
The announcement comes the day before Obama is scheduled to appear at a prominent LGBT fundraising gala in New York for the Democratic National Committee.
“President Obama’s commitment to LGBT equality will be one of his lasting legacies,” Anthony D. Romero, executive director of the American Civil Liberties Union, said in a statement. “This President has done more for the struggle for LGBT equality than all previous presidents combined.”