In Tuesday’s Washington Post, the newspaper editorializes in support of a proposed executive order that President Obama could sign to ensure that federal contractors receiving federal tax dollars do not discriminate against applicants and employees based on their sexual orientation or gender identity.
The impact that such an executive order would have on LGBT workers is immense, and provides the opportunity to create a tipping point moment with employment protections based on sexual orientation and gender identity. An executive order on contractors, when combined with existing workplace protections provided by state laws in many states and by federal law for federal workers, would likely mean that, for the first time in history, more than half of all American workers would have legally binding workplace rights. And with federal contractors employing people in all 50 states, there would be at least some workplaces in every state where employees would have legally binding protections against discrimination.
The need for such protections could not be clearer. Even though it is 2012 and LGBT people have made many remarkable strides forward in recent years, LGBT workers continue to face very high rates of discrimination in the workplace. While the ultimate answer to this problem rests with Congress and passage of the Employment Non-Discrimination Act (ENDA), this executive order would represent a critical interim step. President Obama can and should order federal contractors to extend existing nondiscrimination requirements that they must meet to include sexual orientation and gender identity.
At present, in the absence of an executive order protecting persons employed by federal contractors against this kind of discrimination, the federal government has no assurance that its contractors are following the type of nondiscriminatory employment practices that apply to the federal workforce.
As the Washington Post points out in its editorial, federal contractors employ roughly 26 million Americans, which represent 22 percent of the entire workforce. And while it is true that most of the largest federal contractors already have similar non-discrimination requirements in place, a new study from the Williams Institute found that this executive order would extend protections to 16.5 million employees who currently do not have them.
Over 70 years ago, President Franklin D. Roosevelt provided the first national victory for the modern civil rights movement by signing an executive order integrating the nation’s shipyards and other worksites run by defense contractors. Now is the time to ensure that federal contractors receiving federal funds do not discriminate against applicants and employees based on sexual orientation or gender identity.