According to news reports, President Obama will soon sign an executive order providing non-discrimination protections to lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) employees of federal contractors. This news is the culmination of six years of advocacy by the members and supporters of the Human Rights Campaign (HRC), LGBT and civil rights leaders, and allies on Capitol Hill. After five million emails and a mountain of compelling evidence, today’s announcement comes as welcome news to millions of LGBT workers around the country without essential employment protections.
“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,” said Chad Griffin, President of the Human Rights Campaign.
Currently, there’s no federal law or regulation that explicitly bans workplace discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity. And in 29 states, it’s legal under state law to fire or refuse employment to a person based on sexual orientation – and 32 states lack explicit laws banning discrimination based on gender identity.
The executive order will 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 – 28 million workers – and collect around $500 billion in federal contracts every year. According to the Williams Institute, an executive order would protect 11 million more American workers from discrimination based on sexual orientation and up to 16.5 million more workers based on gender identity.
Notably, the proposed executive order will require Exxon Mobil Corporation, a top federal contractor that draws hundreds of millions annually in federal contracts, to provide non-discrimination protections to its LGBT employees and prospective hires. Yet ExxonMobil has consistently resisted these kinds of protections. Earlier this month, ExxonMobil’s shareholders voted for the 17th time to reject a policy that would prohibit discrimination against LGBT workers.
“This order will bring much-needed relief to ExxonMobil’s LGBT employees,” Griffin said, “Year after year, ExxonMobil has held the lowest spot in HRC’s Corporate Equality Index — the first and only company to receive a negative score.”
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. According to HRC’s research, 91 percent of Fortune 500 companies include sexual orientation in their workplace policies and 61 percent include gender identity. Also, 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 13.7 million people.
Earlier today, 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.
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.
“Countless LGBT workers across the country will be able to rest easier once a strong executive order is in place, but there is no denying that the time has come to do even more,” said Griffin. “The House of Representatives must seize this opportunity to immediately pass the Employment Non-Discrimination Act, and we will continue to fight for the greatest number of civil rights protections for the greatest number of LGBT people around the country.”