WASHINGTON — The White House Monday will announce that new rules barring federal contractors from discriminating on the basis of sexual orientation or gender identity are being drafted, BuzzFeed has learned.
More than two years after the White House first rejected pursuing an executive order implementing the protections, President Obama is moving on the issue a week after talking about the important role that administrative action can play in advancing LGBT rights.
At a question-and-answer session at the White House last week, Obama spoke about how transgender students can now "assert their rights" following recent Education Department action laying out an expanded view of sex discrimination protections under Title IX.
The comments were in contrast to the administration's prior stance against signing an executive order to bar federal contractors from discriminating against LGBT workers and job applicants, despite Obama having said he would support protecting such workers in a questionnaire filled out while a candidate in 2008.
The Obama administration has maintained in the past that the Employment Non-Discrimination Act (ENDA) is its preferred path for LGBT workplace protections, but Monday's announcement signals an acknowledgement that, despite Senate passage last fall, the bill is not likely to move in the House this year.
Monday's planned announcement comes the day before Obama is slated to talk in New York City at a Democratic National Committee LGBT gala. Additionally, the White House reception planned to mark LGBT Pride Month is set for June 30.
Although the specifics of the White House plans were not yet known, the order likely would either amend an earlier executive order signed by President Lyndon Johnson banning federal contractors from discriminating on the basis of race, color, religion, sex, or national origin or would be modeled after that order.
The White House declined to provide comment on the plans Monday morning.
Chad Griffin, president of the Human Rights Campaign, said in a statement, "By issuing an executive order prohibiting federal contractors from discriminating against LGBT people, the President will not only create fairer workplaces across the country, he will demonstrate to Congress that adopting federal employment protections for LGBT people is good policy and good for business. The White House statement today is promising, and we look forward to seeing the details of the executive order."
Tico Almeida, president of Freedom to Work, said in a statement, "Freedom to Work applauds President Obama for fulfilling his campaign promise to bring LGBT workplace protections to the employees of companies that profit from federal contracts. This executive order is a tremendous step forward in the campaign to give LGBT Americans a fair shot to build a successful career being judged on their talent and hard work – nothing more and nothing less."
Rea Carey, the executive director of the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force, said in a statement, "This is a major step forward in the struggle for freedom and justice for LGBTQ workers and their families. Now millions of people will have the economic security they need to provide for their families. Through his actions, the President has demonstrated again his commitment to ending discrimination. We thank all the organizations who have worked so hard to make this piece of history. This decision is good for LGBTQ people, good for our economy and good for America. Unfortunately, many of us who don't work for federal contractors will still lack workplace protections. Now we must redouble our efforts for the urgent passage of state employment protections and strong federal legislation."
White House senior adviser Valerie Jarrett tweeted about the action:
From a White House official:
"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. 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.
"Today, millions of Americans in most states in the country go to work every day knowing they could lose their jobs simply because of who they are or who they love. No current federal law adequately protects lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) workers from employment discrimination. That’s why the President has long supported federal legislation to explicitly prohibit employers from discriminating on the basis of sexual orientation or gender identity. Last November, the Senate passed the Employment Non-Discrimination Act (ENDA) with strong bipartisan support. However, the House has failed to act on this important legislation.
"Following on his pledge for this to be a year of action to expand opportunity for all Americans, the President has directed his staff to prepare for his signature an Executive Order that prohibits federal contractors from discriminating on the basis of sexual orientation or gender identity. The action would build upon existing protections, which generally prohibit federal contractors and subcontractors from discriminating in employment decisions on the basis of race, color, religion, sex, or national origin. This is consistent with the President’s views that all Americans, LGBT or not, should be treated with dignity and respect.
"President Obama is proud of the accomplishments he and his Administration have made to advance and promote equality, justice, and dignity for all members of the LGBT community. From signing an inclusive Hate Crimes law to passing the Affordable Care Act, from reauthorizing the Violence Against Women Act with provisions to protect LGBT victims to ensuring equality in federal housing, we have taken many important steps forward. While work remains to ensure that all Americans, regardless of sexual orientation or gender identity, are equal under the law, we look forward to continuing to make progress in the months and years ahead."
Sen. Jeff Merkley, ENDA's lead sponsor in the Senate, said in a statement, "With this announcement, the arc of history bends a little further toward justice. Discrimination simply has no place in American workplaces. This executive order will allow millions more Americans to go to work empowered with the right to do their jobs free of harassment or discrimination.
"Most Americans don’t know that it’s still legal in many states to fire someone for their sexual orientation or gender identity. That’s because it not only defies common sense, it goes wholly against who we are as a nation. No more excuses. It’s way past time for Speaker Boehner to allow ENDA to have a vote in the House. No one should be fired because of who they are or whom they love."
Chris Geidner is the legal editor for BuzzFeed News and is based in Washington, DC. In 2014, Geidner won the National Lesbian & Gay Journalists Association award for journalist of the year.
Contact Chris Geidner at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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