I have exciting news about justice and equality for those in the United States workforce who identify as LGBT.
On Monday, July 21, President Barack Obama signed an executive order banning discrimination in the workplace against employees who identify as LGBT and work in the federal government or as federal contractors.
This action and spirit of this order is in line with our values, mission, and Equity and Inclusion Statement. Working to end the discrimination of employees by their employers is a cause that builds a positive environment in our economy.
The decisive impact of this order can be seen in many ways. It makes it illegal to fire or harass employees of federal contractors based on sexual orientation or gender identity and explicitly bans discrimination against transgender (trans*) employees of the federal government. This affects nearly 24,000 companies with 28 million collective employees, which is close to one fifth of the U.S.’s workforce.
The historic relevance of this executive order takes on another role in that it does not allow religious exemptions.
Reverend Fred Davie, Executive Vice President of Union Theological Seminary and a member of the LGBT community said,
“This is a tremendous victory for those of us who believe that as people of faith we should be exemplary, not exempted. I am very pleased the President is signing an executive order prohibiting discrimination against the LGBT community in federal contracting without a new religious exemption. The public’s money should never be used to discriminate.”
The momentum that the country is experiencing in garnering rights for all and ending discrimination is notable. Just last month the Veterans Affairs (VA) Administration published its first official guidance for same-sex married couples on the benefits and services to which they are entitled under current laws and regulations.
This executive order is a step forward that allows our students to enter a workforce filled with equitable opportunities.
There will always be work to be done to ensure our campuses remain accessible and equal. This executive order takes our values that we commit to on our campuses and moves it to the front of the workforce.
After eight years of service on the Human Rights Campaign Religion and Faith Council working to achieve an inclusive ENDA, I am pleased to see President Obama find a way to represent the rights of American workers who identify as LGBT.
Additional Information about President Obama’s Executive Order
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.” President Obama’s Executive Order will add sexual orientation and gender identity to the list of protected categories.
President Obama’s Executive Order does not allow for any exemption beyond the one added by Executive Order 13279. 13279, issued by President George W. Bush, 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 at www.dol.gov/ofccp.
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.
President 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.