On Tuesday afternoon, over 70 members of Congress sent a letter to President Obama urging him to sign an executive order to ensure that federal contractors receiving tax dollars do not discriminate against applicants and employees based on their sexual orientation or gender identity.
The ACLU views this executive order as the single most important step that President Obama could take this year to eradicate anti-LGBT discrimination from American workplaces. The impact of such an executive order would be immense, and provides the opportunity to create a tipping point moment with employment protections based on sexual orientation and gender identity covering more than half of the American workforce.
The letter, which was organized by Reps. Frank Pallone (D-N.J.), Barney Frank (D-Mass.) and Lois Capps (D-Calif.), is a clear indication that the ACLU's view of the historic importance of this executive order is one that is widely shared on Capitol Hill, particularly among the core supporters of the Employment Non-Discrimination Act. (Frank is a longtime champion and lead sponsor of ENDA.) As the representatives write in their letter to President Obama:
This order would extend important workplace protections to millions of Americans, while at the same time laying the groundwork for Congressional passage of the Employment Non-Discrimination Act (ENDA), a goal that we share with you.
The need for this executive order could not be clearer. The reality remains that it is legal to fire or refuse to hire someone based on their sexual orientation in 29 states. Those who are transgender can be fired or denied employment solely based on their gender identity in 34 states. 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.
This executive order would be a critical and essential advancement. Voices urging President Obama to sign this executive order grow louder with each week, and today's letter is a tremendous demonstration of congressional support. Protecting employees and applicants for employment against sexual orientation and gender identity discrimination through this executive order would be an historic step forward, and would help fulfill the nation's commitment to equality in the workforce, particularly when federal funds are being spent.