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An Important Step toward Workplace Equality: An Executive Order on Federal Contractors

Employment discrimination continues to be a critical problem facing the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) community. In more than half the country – 29 states –  employees lack explicit workplace protections on the basis of sexual orientation, and those same employment protections based on gender identity in 32 states.  Far too many LGBT people cannot be honestly themselves without fear of losing their livelihoods.

The Employment Non-Discrimination Act (ENDA), federal legislation that would prohibit anti-LGBT workplace discrimination, remains critically needed to address this enormous inequality. Last fall, the United States Senate approved ENDA with a strong bipartisan vote. While House Republican leadership has already spoken out against ENDA, we continue to look for opportunities to advance this commonsense, popular bill to the President’s desk. 

However, there is another important way to protect millions more American workers from unjust discrimination – an executive order on federal contractors. By issuing such an order, the President has not only created fairer workplaces across the country, he has continued to put pressure on the House to adopt federal employment protections for LGBT people.

Protecting Millions More Workers

The federal contractor executive order prohibits companies that contract with the federal government from discriminating in employment based on sexual orientation and gender identity.  Federal contractors employ more than 20 percent of the American workforce -- 28 million workers -- and collect around $500 billion in federal contracts every year.  According to the Williams Institute, an executive order will protect 11 million more American workers from discrimination based on sexual orientation and up to 14 million more workers based on gender identity.


Following Best Practices in Corporate America Today

For 12 years, HRC’s Corporate Equality Index has set key standards for equality in America’s workplaces. Corporations of all sizes, regions and industries have risen to the challenge and adopted policies and practices that treat LGBT workers fairly and equally.  For example:

  • Nearly 91% of Fortune 500 companies include sexual orientation in their workplace policies and 61% include gender identity.
  • Nearly 450 major companies require their suppliers to adhere to their own LGBT-inclusive workplace policies, including more than half of the 100 largest corporations in America.  These companies span 37 distinct industries and employ nearly 13.7 million people.


 

Expanding Longstanding Requirements for Contractors

Under Executive Order 11246, first issued by President Johnson, 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.

Putting Core American Values into Practice

In June 2014, HRC released new public opinion research that conclusively demonstrates strong public support for federal non-discrimination workplace protections for LGBT workers. A national survey of 1,200 registered voters conducted June 6-10, 2014 by TargetPoint Consulting found that 63 percent of those surveyed favor a federal law that protects gay and transgender people from employment discrimination while only 25 percent oppose it.  Enthusiasm for this is especially strong among supporters: 42 percent strongly favor it, while only 16 percent strongly oppose. 

HRC’s public opinion research on an executive order that would prohibit federal contractors from discriminating against LGBT workers had similar results. 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.