- July 21, 2014
In a White House ceremony this morning, President Obama will sign a sweeping executive order protecting lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) workers from job discrimination. The order, profoundly consequential in its own right, dramatically underscores President Obama’s own LGBT legacy of achievement, unmatched in history: three landmark pieces of legislation; 90 significant policy or regulatory changes, including the largest conferral of rights in history to LGBT people via the implementation of the Windsor decision; and 15 federal judicial and seven ambassadorial appointments.
In the executive order he will sign, President Obama explicitly protects transgender federal employees from workplace discrimination by amending an order issued by President Bill Clinton banning sexual orientation discrimination within the federal workforce. In the same order, President Obama will set strong new standards for federal contractors, which employ 20 percent of the American workforce. In so doing, the Obama administration has guaranteed that 14 million more American workers will be protected from discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation or gender identity.
In the part that applies to federal contractors, the Obama administration declined to create a separate carve-out or standard for LGBT employees. Instead, the President elected to narrowly amend Executive Order 11246, first signed by President Lyndon B. Johnson in 1965—placing sexual orientation and gender identity on equal footing with race, color, religion, sex and national origin, and thus making these protections virtually politically impossible for a future administration to undo.
These two acts can be viewed as the keystone act of a concerted, six-year effort by the White House to dramatically advance the cause of LGBT equality. When President Obama was inaugurated in 2009, the Human Rights Campaign presented him with the Blueprint for Positive Change—a checklist of actions the Obama administration could take to change the lives of LGBT Americans for the better. In the years since, President Obama, Attorney General Eric Holder, and leaders within every cabinet agency have spearheaded and achieved unprecedented progress on almost every front.
In response to the executive order, HRC president Chad Griffin issued the following statement:
“With this action, President Obama has cemented his legacy as a transformative leader. Consistently, this administration has taken unprecedented and historic executive actions to advance LGBT equality in this country and around the world.
“The focus now shifts to the House of Representatives, where the Employment Non-Discrimination Act must be brought to a vote by the House leadership. A bipartisan coalition of Americans is standing behind LGBT equality, a bipartisan coalition of our elected leaders should be doing the same.”
Viewed in full, President Obama’s legacy of achievement is unmatched in history: three landmark pieces of legislation; 90 significant policy or regulatory changes, including the largest conferral of rights in history to LGBT people via the implementation of the Windsor decision; and 15 federal judicial and seven ambassadorial appointments.
- President Obama has signed the only signature pieces of LGBT-inclusive legislation to be passed by Congress—the Matthew Shepard and James Byrd, Jr. Hate Crimes Prevention Act, the repeal of Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell and the first-ever LGBT-inclusive Violence Against Women Act re-authorization.
The administration has also proactively instituted 90 far-reaching administrative and regulatory policy changes that have dramatically improved the lives of LGBT people in all 50 states and around the world.
- In the wake of the 2013 Windsor decision, the Obama administration worked across all cabinet agencies to ensure the fullest and broadest implementation of the decision possible under the law—resulting in the largest conferral of LGBT rights in history.
- The Obama administration has made a record number of appointments of LGBT judges and ambassadors—and a broader 250 LGBT appointments to full-time and advisory positions in the federal government.
There is still a great deal more the Obama administration can do to improve the lives of LGBT Americans through the exercise of executive power or the President’s bully pulpit.
- The President must continue to exert maximum pressure on Congress to act on essential pro-equality legislative priorities, including the Employment Non-Discrimination Act. In addition to workplace discrimination protections, there is no federal law that protects LGBT from discrimination in housing and public accommodations.
Several executive actions requested in the Blueprint for Positive Change remain incomplete, and HRC continues to stress that the Obama administration must incorporate sexual orientation and gender identity as enumerated categories in all cases when providing protections under federal regulations or distinguishing populations for research and funding:
- Eliminate Discrimination in Charitable Choice and Faith-Based Initiatives
- Ensure Non-Discrimination Policies and Science-Based Curricula Are Not Undermined by Religious Exemptions to Accreditation Standards
- End Discrimination Against Gay and Bisexual Blood Donors
- Designate the LGBT Population as a Health Disparity Population
- End LGBT Discrimination in Disaster Relief Services
- Ensure Humane Treatment for Transgender Detainees
- Review Sex Segregated Placement of Transgender Inmates in Federal Prison Facilities
- Ensure Treatments Relating to Gender Transition Qualify for FMLA Leave when Necessary
- And HRC continues to call on President Obama to appoint the nation’s first openly-LGBT cabinet secretary.
“As cabinet vacancies emerge, I strongly encourage President Obama to choose among the many highly qualified, openly-LGBT Americans who would make exceptional appointments,” Griffin said. “The President has a responsibility to ensure the diversity of his cabinet reflects the diversity of the country he serves. Just as importantly, the first-ever appointment of an openly-LGBT cabinet secretary would send a vitally important message to LGBT youth about their equal ability to serve their country at the highest levels of government.”
Today’s federal contractor executive order is broadly supported by the American public. A 2011 poll of likely voters conducted for HRC by GQRR found that 73 percent favored such an order and support was strong regardless of age, race, education, political ideology, and a number of other demographics.
Under Executive Order 11246, first issued by President Johnson in 1965, companies contracting with the federal government for $10,000 or more in a single year are prohibited from discriminating against employees based on race, color, religion, or national origin. His order built on prohibitions on race discrimination in various federal contracts issued by prior presidents, as far back as Franklin Delano Roosevelt, that predated broader civil rights protections. In addition, since 1967, the executive order has also prohibited discrimination based on sex.