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. It remains legal to fire or refuse to hire someone based on his or her sexual orientation in more than half the country – 29 states – and to base those same employment decisions on someone’s gender identity in 33 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. Earlier this 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 would not only create fairer workplaces across the country, he would continue to put pressure on the House to adopt federal employment protections for LGBT people.

Protecting Millions More Workers

An executive order would prohibit 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 and earn around $500 billion from federal taxpayers every year.  According to the Williams Institute, an executive order would extend LGBT-inclusive employment protections to 16 million more workers.

Following Best Practices in Corporate America Today

Every day, more and more American companies are realizing that in order to stay competitive in an evolving global economy, every employee’s contribution must be valued.  These companies recognize that inclusive nondiscrimination policies are not just the right thing to do, they are good for business.  Businesses contracting with the federal government are no different. Many federal contractors— including the five largest, all defense contractors— have adopted LGBT-inclusive equal employment opportunity policies.

For a decade, 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 88% of Fortune 500 companies include sexual orientation in their workplace policies and 57% include gender identity.
  • More than 300 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 35 distinct industries and employ nearly 10 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, national origin, or sex.  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.

Putting Core American Values into Practice

Americans believe that everyone should get a fair shot in the workplace, and should be judged on qualifications and performance.  Even thirty years ago, public polling showed that a majority of Americans have supported equal job opportunities for gays and lesbians; today nearly 90% do.

In order to make a strong case to the administration for this executive order, HRC commissioned a poll in November 2011 which showed that 73% of Americans support an executive order barring discrimination against LGBT employees by federal contractors.  The poll demonstrated not only that there is strong support for the order across the ideological spectrum, but also that issuing the order would make voters more favorable towards the president.