WASHINGTON — Liberal pressure is mounting on President Obama to sign an executive order banning federal contractors from discriminating against lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender employees — a move Obama has declined to take over the past year.
Led by the Human Rights Campaign, Freedom to Work and the American Civil Liberties Union, more than 50 organizations — from the AFL-CIO to the NAACP — sent a letter to Obama today asking him "to take an immediate step toward legal equality by signing [such] an executive order."
In the letter, the organizations write, "Over the past 70 years, both Republican and Democratic presidents have used executive orders to ensure that taxpayer money is not wasted on workplace discrimination or harassment based on characteristics such as race, gender, and religion. These contractor policies exist to this day, and they cover almost one in four jobs throughout the United States. It is now time for an executive order ensuring the same workplace protections for LGBT Americans."
HRC president Chad Griffin told BuzzFeed, "A broad and diverse group of organizations banding together behind this push for an executive order serves as further evidence of the widespread support and urgent need for an end to workplace discrimination among federal contractors."
ACLU executive director Anthony D. Romero pointed to the historical precedent.
"By banning federal contractors from discriminating against LGBT Americans, President Obama would extend the commitment to non-discrimination first made by President Roosevelt more than 70 years ago when he signed an executive order integrating the nation's shipyards and other worksites run by defense contractors. Taking this action would result in at least some workplaces in all 50 states having legally binding protections for LGBT Americans — a first in our nation's history," he said in a statement.
An existing executive order signed by President Lyndon Johnson protects employees of federal contractors from discrimination based on race, color, religion, sex, or national origin. Advocates have sought an expansion of that order or a similar order to prohibit discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity — something Obama stated in a 2008 candidate questionnaire that he supported and would implement as president.
White House officials have repeatedly said, however, that their preference is to focus on passage of legislation to address all anti-LGBT workplace discrimination, specifically endorsing the Employment Non-Discrimination Act.
Tico Almeida, the founder of Freedom to Work, has been pushing hard on White House action for more than a year. Explaining the reasoning behind the groups' action Wednesday, Almeida said, "White House staff have repeatedly stated their preference for a congressional solution, and we urge them put action behind those words by persuading Senate Majority Harry Reid to bring ENDA to the floor of the Senate this year for a long-overdue vote. But with many thousands of federal contractors facing layoffs from the upcoming sequestration, the President should take action right now to ensure that LGBT Americans have the same shot as everyone else to hold onto their jobs."
A group of 37 Democratic senators made a similar call for Obama to act this past week.