Presidential remarks from the East Room at the White House Monday morning kept the media on its feet concerning the Employment Non-Discrimination Act (ENDA). Although a little late to the party, President Obama quickly proceeded to the business at hand.
“Many of you have worked for a long time to see this day coming. You organized, you spoke up, you signed petitions, you sent letters – I know because I got a lot of them. And now, thanks to your passionate advocacy and the irrefutable rightness of your cause, our government – government of the people, by the people, and for the people – will become just a little bit fairer,” Obama said.
“It doesn’t make much sense, but today in America, millions of our fellow citizens wake up and go to work with the awareness that they could lose their job, not because of anything they do or fail to do, but because of who they are -lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender. And that’s wrong. We’re here to do what we can to make it right – to bend that arc of justice just a little bit in a better direction,” Obama added.
Furthering his verbal commitment to the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender community, Obama said, “I’ve appointed a record number of lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender public servants to positions across my administration. They are ambassadors and federal judges, special assistants, senior advisors from the Pentagon to the Labor Department. Every day, their talent is put to work on behalf of the American people.”
Obama stated in closing, “I want to thank all of you for doing your part. We’ve got a long way to go, but I hope as everybody looks around this room, you are reminded of the extraordinary progress that we have made not just in our lifetimes, but in the last five years. In the last two years. In the last one year. We’re on the right side of history. I’m going to sign this executive order. Thank you, everybody.”
“President Obama declared 2014 a year of action – working with Congress where they’re willing, but acting where he can when they refuse to take action,” a White House press statement read Monday. “As part of this commitment to expanding opportunity for hardworking Americans, , the President will sign an Executive Order prohibiting federal contractors from discriminating against LGBT employees and prohibiting discrimination based on gender identity in federal employment.”
The statement continued: “For 40 years, Congress has considered various pieces of legislation meant to address LGBT workplace equality. Last November, the Senate passed the ENDA with strong bipartisan support. However, the House has failed to act…Today’s action is consistent with the President’s commitment to advancing equality for the LGBT community, as well as his commitment to expanding opportunity for American workers and strengthening American business.”
The following data in the bullet points below were supplied to The Seattle Lesbian Monday via the White House.
- Workplace Inequality Still Impacts Millions of LGBT Workers. Today, only 18 states and the District of Columbia have laws explicitly protecting LGBT workers from being fired because of their sexual orientation or gender identity, and no federal law adequately protects LGBT workers from being fired because of who they are or who they love. According to surveys and studies, more than four in ten lesbian, gay, and bisexual people have experienced some form of employment discrimination based on their sexual orientation at some point in their lives, and 90 percent of transgender employees have experienced harassment, mistreatment or discrimination on the job.
- Employers Are Taking Action on Their Own to Support Workplace Equality – Because They Recognize It Is In Their Interest: According to an analysis of 36 research studies by the Williams Institute at the UCLA School of Law, “LGBT-supportive policies and workplace climates are linked to greater job commitment, improved workplace relationships, increased job satisfaction, and improved health outcomes among LGBT employees.”
- Fortune 500 Companies Support LGBT Workplace Equality. Most of America’s major companies know that workplace equality is important to staying competitive and retaining their best talent, and as a result, nondiscrimination policies are good for business. 91 percent of Fortune 500 companies already prohibit discrimination based on sexual orientation; and 61 percent already prohibit discrimination based on gender identity.
- Small Businesses Support LGBT Workplace Equality. According to research conducted by Small Business Majority, 6-in-10 small business owners believe that employment nondiscrimination laws improve their bottom line by helping employers attract the best and brightest employees. And of small business owners who have adopted nondiscrimination policies to protect LGBT workers, 86 percent report that nondiscrimination policies cost them “nothing or next to nothing,” 2 percent said such policies had a small but significant cost, and none said they had a substantial cost.
- Many Federal Contractors Already Have Policies on LGBT Workplace Equality. Of the largest 50 federal contractors, which represent nearly half of all federal contracting dollars, 86 percent prohibit sexual orientation discrimination and 61 percent prohibit discrimination based on gender identity. In addition, the five top federal contractors, which receive nearly a quarter of all federal contracting dollars, already bar discrimination based on both sexual orientation and gender identity.
- The American Public Supports LGBT Workplace Equality. A recent national survey of 1,200 registered voters found that 63 percent of those surveyed favor a federal law that protects LGBT people from employment discrimination. When asked specifically about LGBT nondiscrimination in federal contracting, another poll found that 73 percent of those surveyed favor such policies.
- States and Local Jurisdictions Support LGBT Workplace Equality. Over the last several years, there has been significant progress in moving LGBT inclusive non-discrimination laws through statehouses and city halls across the nation. Since 2011, Connecticut, Delaware, Hawaii, Maryland, Massachusetts, and Nevada have added gender identity to their existing employment non-discrimination laws. Today, 18 states and the District of Columbia have inclusive non-discrimination laws, and over 200 cities and counties – from small towns like Bozeman, Montana and Vicco, Kentucky to large cities like Houston, Texas and Atlanta, Georgia – prohibit employment discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation and/or gender identity. Nine of the ten most populous cities in the country already have these protections in place.
- Diverse Faith Communities Support LGBT Workplace Equality. A diverse range of religious communities and organizations support workplace protections, including the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.); United Methodist Church, General Board of Church and Society; The Episcopal Church, the United Church of Christ, Justice and Witness Ministries; and the Union of Reform Judaism. Majorities of Christian denominations polled support workplace protections, including 76 percent of Catholics, 75 percent of white mainline Protestants, 61 percent of minority Protestants, and 59 percent of white evangelical Protestants. Another poll shows that 74 percent of born-again Christians favor LGBT workplace protections.
For some background, Executive Order 11246, issued by President Lyndon B. Johnson, prohibits federal contractors from discriminating “against any employee or applicant for employment because of race, color, religion, sex, or national origin.” Obama’s Executive Order will add sexual orientation and gender identity to the list of protected categories.
Obama’s Executive Order does not allow for any exemption beyond the one added by Executive Order 13279, issued by President George W. Bush, which permits religiously affiliated contractors to favor individuals of a particular religion when making employment decisions, by specifying that Executive Order 11246, “shall not apply to a Government contractor or subcontractor that is a religious corporation, association, educational institution, or society, with respect to the employment of individuals of a particular religion to perform work connected with the carrying on by such corporation, association, educational institution, or society of its activities. Such contractors and subcontractors are not exempted or excused from complying with the other requirements contained in this Order.” In addition, under the First Amendment, religious entities are permitted to make employment decisions about their ministers as they see fit.
Executive Order 11246 governs only federal contractors and federally-assisted construction contractors and subcontractors who do over $10,000 in Government business in one year. It does not affect grants and President Obama’s Executive Order does not impact the administration of federal grants. The Order is administered and enforced by the U.S. Department of Labor’s Office of Federal Contract Compliance Programs (OFCCP). As part of these duties, OFCCP conducts compliance reviews, receives complaints from individuals who believe they have been discriminated against, and provides technical assistance to contractors regarding their contractual obligations. More information can be found here.
Executive Order 11478, issued by President Nixon, bars discrimination against federal employees on the basis of race, color, religion, sex, national origin, disability, and age, and was amended by Executive Order 13087, issued by President Clinton, to include sexual orientation.
Obama’s Executive Order will add gender identity to the list of protected categories. The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission and other federal agencies already apply Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 to protect federal employees from discrimination on the basis of gender identity as a form of sex discrimination. The President believes it is important to explicitly prohibit – in both Executive Action and in legislation – discrimination on the basis of gender identity.
Civil rights organizations are heralding Obama for Monday’s action.
Transgender Legal Defense & Education Fund (TLDEF) Executive Director Michael Silverman praised Obama, saying: “We are grateful to President Obama for banning discrimination against LGBT employees of the federal government and federal contractors. Transgender people face enormous obstacles to finding and keeping jobs. They report unemployment at twice the rate of the population as a whole. And they are nearly four times more likely than the population as a whole to have a household income of less than $10,000.”
Silverman added, “These statistics are troubling. Our nation needs a comprehensive federal law to protect LBGT workers. The President’s action today is an enormous step forward in realizing that goal. With the stroke of a pen, the President has protected LGBT people working for the federal government and federal contractors from losing their jobs simply for being who they are. Everyone deserves the same chance to earn a living and provide for their families. This executive order is a huge victory for the LGBT movement.”
Family Equality Council Executive Director Gabriel Blau said: “With the stroke of a pen this morning, President Barack Obama has reiterated his commitment to equality. At the foundation of every happy, healthy family is economic security – the ability to earn a living and the economic stability to provide for a dependent partner and children. Through this executive order, the President ensures protections for many of the LGBTQ families we serve so that they may better provide security and stability for their loved ones.”
Blau added, “The U.S. workforce contains approximately 5.4 million LGBTQ workers who face high risks of job discrimination. As of today, LGBTQ federal employees and those who work for federal contractors will no longer face those risks.”
Human Rights Campaign (HRC) President Chad Griffin offered, “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.”