President Obama plans to sign an executive order barring federal contractors from discriminating on the basis of sexual orientation or gender identity, a White House official has confirmed, marking a long-awaited fulfillment of a 2008 campaign promise and yet another victory for LGBT Americans, delivered by the man once dubbed “the first gay president.”
“The president has declared 2014 a year of action – vowing to use the power of his pen and phone to take action on behalf of the American people to strengthen the economy and the middle class,” said an anonymous White House official in a statement Monday. “His actions have been driven by the core American principle that if you work hard and play by the rules, you should have the opportunity to succeed, and that your ability to get ahead should be determined by your hard work, ambition, and goals – not by the circumstances of your birth, your sexual orientation or gender identity.”
Currently, 29 states lack workplace protections for gay and lesbian employees, and four more allow terminations based on gender identity as well. Last year, the Senate passed a version of the Employment Non-Discrimination Act (ENDA) – which would ban all employers from firing, refusing to hire, or otherwise discriminating against any employee on the basis of sexual orientation or gender identity – but its chances of passing the Republican-controlled House remain slight.
In lieu of legislation, LGBT advocates have been hounding President Obama to take executive action on the matter – something he promised to do as a candidate in 2008, but never actually did. Adding to their frustration, advocates watched as the president recently signed an executive order to raise the minimum wage for federal contractors when Congress wouldn’t compromise, the very strategy they’d been asking Obama to turn to with no success.
According the Center for American Progress, federal contractors legally bound to comply with the executive order employ approximately 22% of all U.S. civilian workers. That means that nearly a quarter of the American workforce will be entitled to LGBT workplace protections, once Obama signs the order.
“We’re thrilled that the White House is finally taking action on LGBT workplace discrimination – action that is long overdue, but that will finally begin to address the enormous hurdles that LGBT individuals face in finding and keeping a job in this country,” said GetEQUAL Co-Director Heather Cronk in a statement. “It is now vitally important for all of us to insist that this executive order, when eventually signed by the president, does not include religious exemptions that would permit taxpayer dollars to be spent on discrimination. We will continue to be vigilant about this important aspect of the executive order – LGBT Americans need these protections immediately, and without the gaping holes that exemptions would create.”
Monday’s announcement comes one day before the president’s trip to New York for the Democratic National Committee’s annual gay and lesbian fundraiser. In addition to acting on workplace protections for LGBT employees, the Obama administration has ended “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” – the military’s ban on openly gay service members – signed an inclusive Hate Crimes law, included provisions to protect LGBT victims in the Violence Against Women Act, and updated federal policies to recognize same-sex marriages. In 2012, Obama became the first president to publicly support marriage equality.