by Mike Andrew -
SGN Staff Writer
In a one-two punch against anti-Gay discrimination, Sen. Patty Murray (D-WA) called on the Obama administration to ban discrimination by federal contractors, and Sen. Tom Harkin (D-IA) announced that the Employment Non-Discrimination Act (ENDA) 'will move this year.'
Murray joined 36 other senators in a letter released February 14, calling for an executive order barring companies that do business with the federal government from discriminating against LGBT employees and jobseekers.
Only two days before, Harkin, chair of the Senate Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions (HELP) Committee, told a Center for American Progress audience that ENDA will go forward this year. Murray is also a member of the HELP committee, which would have jurisdiction over ENDA.
OBAMA URGED TO ACT
'Issuing an Executive Order that includes sexual orientation and gender identity is a critical step that you can take today toward ending discrimination in the workplace,' the senators said in their letter to Obama.
'By expanding protections for LGBT employees of federal contractors, you would be helping to ensure that all Americans get an equal opportunity to succeed and that federal taxpayer dollars are used to support companies with the best employment practices.'
Defense contractors have been prohibited from discriminating on the basis of race or national origin since World War II, and broader anti-discrimination bans have been in place on all contractors for almost 50 years. The letter to Obama asks him to issue a new executive order that adds sexual orientation and gender identity to these longstanding bans.
According to Murray's office, the five largest federal contractors already have LGBT-inclusive nondiscrimination policies, as do the majority of the 25 largest federal contractors.
However, despite advances in many American workplaces, discrimination against LGBT people remains a problem. Recent studies have shown that up to 43% of Lesbian, Gay, and Bi workers and 90% of Transgender people report having suffered some form of workplace discrimination.
HRC THANKS SENATORS
'An executive order from President Obama would ensure that hundreds of thousands of LGBT federal contract employees could go to work every day without fear of being fired for who they are or who they love,' said HRC President Chad Griffin.
'I am grateful to these leaders in the Senate for speaking out on behalf of LGBT Americans who want nothing more than a fair shot at a job.'
The senators wrote to the White House at a time when, according to the Washington Post, 'Obama is reconsidering whether to issue an executive order prohibiting federal contractors from discriminating on the basis of sexual orientation or gender identity. When he decided not to issue such an order last year, the White House said it would prefer to pass a law applying to Gays and Lesbians in the workplace.
'But if Congress seems unlikely to act on the broader legislation - called the Employment Non-Discrimination Act - officials have signaled to people working on the issue outside the administration that the president would likely consider issuing an executive order, which can only affect government contractors.'
A LONG SLOG FOR ENDA
ENDA would add sexual orientation and gender identity to federal civil rights laws protecting employees and jobseekers. In 29 states, it is still legal for employers to fire or refuse to hire someone just for being Gay or Lesbian, and in 34 states it is legal to fire or refuse to hire Transgender people.
The measure has been introduced in every congressional session since 1994. In 2007, a version of ENDA with Transgender protections stripped out passed the House of Representatives (then controlled by Democrats) but was not taken up by the Senate.
ENDA reportedly has bipartisan support on the HELP committee. In June of last year, when the committee held a hearing on the bill, the Washington Blade surveyed committee members and found all 12 Democrats on the panel plus Republican Mark Kirk of Illinois supporting the measure.
Murray, a HELP committee member and co-sponsor of the bill, told SGN she would support the legislation in committee.
'However,' her office said in an e-mail, 'it remains to be seen at this point what the trajectory is from there.'
In a discussion with the executive board of the Martin Luther King County Labor Council on February 8, Murray suggested that adopting new administrative regulations - such as an executive order regulating federal contractors - might offer quicker results in protecting LGBT workers.
SIGNERS OF THE LETTER
In addition to Murray, the following senators signed the letter to President Obama:
Tom Harkin (D-IA), Jeff Merkley (D-OR), Chris Coons (D-DE), Jeanne Shaheen (D-NH), Mazie Hirono (D-HI), Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI), Richard Blumenthal (D-CT), Ron Wyden (D-OR), Patrick Leahy (D-VT), Barbara Boxer (D-CA), Tom Udall (D-NM), Al Franken (D-MN), Dianne Feinstein (D-CA), Claire McCaskill (D-MO), Tammy Baldwin (D-WI), Martin Heinrich (D-NM), Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY), Carl Levin (D-MI), Elizabeth Warren (D-MA), Frank Lautenberg (D-NJ), Amy Klobuchar (D-MN), Barbara Mikulski (D-MD), Sherrod Brown (D-OH), William Cowan (D-MA), Mark Udall (D-CO), Dick Durbin (D-IL), Debbie Stabenow (D-MI), Bernie Sanders (I-VT), Chuck Schumer (D-NY), Brian Schatz (D-HI), Mark Begich (D-AK), Mark Warner (D-VA), Ben Cardin (D-MD), Jack Reed (D-RI), Robert Casey (D-PA), and Robert Menendez (D-NJ).
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