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to Section One | to Arts & Entertainment
posted Friday, June 20 2014 - Volume 42 Issue 25
Obama will sign executive order to protect LGBT employees
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Obama will sign executive order to protect LGBT employees

by Mike Andrew - SGN Staff Writer

The White House announced on June 16 that President Obama will sign an executive order protecting LGBT employees of federal contractors from workplace discrimination.

Most large employers do business with the federal government and would likely be covered under an executive order.

The President had been under intense pressure from LGBT rights groups to issue just such an order, but in the past said he preferred that Congress pass ENDA (the Employment Non-Discrimination Act). The U.S. Senate passed ENDA last year, but Republican House Speaker John Boehner said he would not bring the bill to a vote in the House.

In March, 195 Democratic lawmakers sent the White House a letter urging him to act quickly to protect LGBT workers.

At an HRC dinner on June 17, Obama joked about his initial reluctance to issue the order banning discrimination against LGBT employees.

'Sometimes you guys were a little impatient,' Obama said. 'Sometimes I had to say, 'Will you just settle down for a second?'

'That's why I've directed my staff... ' he went on. Knowing what was coming, the crowd drowned out the rest of the statement in thunderous applause.

The President added that ENDA is still necessary because an executive order would cover several million employees, but federal law would cover everyone.

'We've got to keep working for equality in the workplace,' he said. 'Every day millions of people go to work knowing they could lose their jobs, he said, not because of something they did 'but because of who they are.'

Washington's Democratic Senators, Patty Murray and Maria Cantwell, applauded the President's announcement, but reaffirmed their support for ENDA. They were among the signers of the March letter urging Obama to issue an executive order.

'This announcement is long overdue, but a major step nonetheless,' Murray said in an email to SGN.

'Who you are or who you love has no implication on your quality of work. Unfortunately, House Republicans seem to disagree. Every American deserves these protections and I will keep fighting until Congress finally does right by the LGBT community and passes the Employment Non-Discrimination Act.'

'This is a major step forward to protect millions of Americans from workplace discrimination,' Cantwell said in a statement. 'Today, the federal government is sending an important message: Federal contractors will be judged on their work, not their sexual orientation.

'But we still have work to do. Today, millions of Americans can still be fired solely on the basis of their sexual orientation or gender identity. It's time for Congress to put an end to that discrimination and pass the Employment Non-Discrimination Act.'

LGBT and workers' rights groups also joined in praise for Obama, but vowed to continue pushing for federal legislation.

'We are glad the president is taking this important step to protect federal contractor employees from discrimination on the job,' Pride At Work Executive Director Jerame Davis said. 'But unfortunately for many Americans - especially in states with no employment discrimination protections - their only option for workplace protections is still a strong union contract.

'Congress still must act to pass the Employment Non-Discrimination Act (ENDA) to ensure that all LGBT Americans are protected from workplace discrimination. Only 18 states currently ban discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity while three other states ban discrimination based on sexual orientation alone. With marriage equality sweeping the nation, it is unconscionable that gays and lesbians could still be fired for putting a photo of their legal spouse on their desk at work.'

'This is a major step forward in the struggle for freedom and justice for LGBTQ workers and their families,' said National Gay and Lesbian Task Force Executive Director Rea Carey. 'Now millions of people will have the economic security they need to provide for their families. Through his actions, the President has demonstrated again his commitment to ending discrimination&

'Unfortunately, many of us who don't work for federal contractors will still lack workplace protections. Now we must redouble our efforts for the urgent passage of state employment protections and strong federal legislation.' Many LGBT rights organizations have expressed reservations about the religious exemptions allowed in the current form of ENDA, and Carey did not explicitly endorse the measure.

According to the White House, staffers are still drafting the executive order, and it is not yet clear what exemptions - if any - will be allowed. Republican Senator Orin Hatch said he expected the executive order to include the same broad exemptions as ENDA now does.

'ENDA strikes a good balance to ensure that discrimination based on sexual orientation will not be tolerated, but also that one of our nation's fundamental freedoms - religious freedom - is still upheld,' Hatch said. 'The same must be said for any Obama Administration initiative on this issue.'

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