As LGBT advocates await an executive order barring federal contractors from discriminating on the basis of sexual orientation or gender identity, President Obama announced this week that he plans to take another step for equality – this time, by extending workplace protections to transgender federal employees.
An existing executive order already prohibits discrimination against gay, lesbian or bisexual employees of the U.S. government. But at a White House Pride Month celebration on Monday, the president told guests that his staff would be preparing a separate executive order banning discrimination on the basis of gender identity as well, according to a White House transcript of Obama’s remarks. Once signed, the measure will protect federal employees whose internal sense of gender does not match their birth-assigned sex.
The move marks the latest use of administrative authority to advance LGBT rights where Congress has not. Last year, the U.S. Senate passed the Employment Non-Discrimination Act (ENDA), which would bar any employer from discriminating on the basis of sexual orientation or gender identity. But the Republican-controlled House has not taken up the bill.
In the absence of broad legislation, the president announced in June that he would sign an executive order prohibiting companies that do business with the government from discriminating against their LGBT employees – an action expected to cover approximately one-fifth of the U.S. workforce. Still, as Obama pointed out Monday, there are currently more states that allow same-sex couples to marry than there are states that protect LGBT workers from discrimination.
“The majority of Fortune 500 companies already have nondiscrimination policies to protect their employees because it’s the right thing to do and because many say it helps to retain and attract the best talent. And I agree,” Obama said at the White House. “So if Congress won’t act, I will.”