Obama’s Executive Order Banning Federal Contractors from Discriminating Against LGBT Workers

On Monday, President Obama signed an executive order prohibiting federal contractors from discriminating on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity. It amends an executive order first issued by former President Lyndon Johnson, adding sexual orientation and gender identity to a list of protected categories including race, color, religion, sex, national origin, disability and age.

The executive order has two parts: It makes it illegal to fire or harass employees of federal contractors based on their sexual orientation or gender identity, and it explicitly bans discrimination against transgender employees of the federal government. The part targeting federal contractors affects 24,000 companies employing roughly 28 million workers, or about one-fifth of the nation’s workforce.

The provision affecting federal employees takes effect immediately, while employees of federal contractors will have their new protections in place by early next year.

It is still legal in 32 states to fire or harass someone at work for being LGBT. Congress could remedy that by passing the Employment Non-Discrimination Act, which already passed the Senate. The president called on Congress to pass ENDA to extend employment discrimination protections to all LGBT workers in the private sector. Many gay and civil rights groups have abandoned ENDA, though, over concerns stemming from the Supreme Court’s Hobby Lobby decision. The organizations expressed concern that the religious exemption included in the Senate version of the bill could be exploited by employers to discriminate against LGBT individuals.

The president’s executive order signed Monday does not include any additional exemptions for religious entities, beyond one implemented during President George W. Bush’s administration that allows religiously affiliated contractors to favor members of their faith when making hiring decisions.

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