The White House has announced that President Obama is preparing an executive order that would prohibit discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation or gender identity by any business that contracts with the federal government. This order is reported to potentially affect 22% of the American workforce.
Is entirely legal to fire someone based on his or her sexual orientation in 29 states and in 32 states transgender people have no protections from being fired because of their gender identity. LGBT employees continue to face widespread discrimination and harassment in the workplace. Studies show that anywhere from 15% to 43% of gay, lesbian, and bisexual people have experienced some form of discrimination and harassment on the job. Workplace discrimination is not only a problem for workers—it also presents problems for businesses by introducing inefficiencies and costs that cut into profits and undermine businesses’ bottom lines.
The signing of this executive order is the single largest expansion of LGBT workplace protections in the nation’s history. “I celebrate this moment knowing that millions of LGBT workers will have protections for the first time in history. It is simply unacceptable that LGBT workers in many parts of our nation can still be unfairly refused employment, harassed at work or even fired for just being who they are,” says Sharon Lettman-Hicks, NBJC Executive Director and CEO. “NBJC applauds the Obama Administration for doing the right thing and protecting LGBT workers any way possible until we can get an all-inclusive, non-discrimination law to protect LGBT people passed by Congress.”
For LGBT workers of color, the lack of worker protections is even more devastating. As NBJC’s co-authored report, A Broken Bargain For LGBT Workers of Color, states, LGBT workers who live at the intersections of race, gender identity and sexual orientation face many extra barriers in obtaining a good job. For example, surveys of Black LGBT people put rates of employment discrimination near 50%.
The executive order comes after a 2008 campaign promise by then-candidate Obama, and massive pressure on the White House by LGBT groups, including GetEQUAL, a national, grassroots advocacy organization pushing for the full equality of lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) individuals. Over the past two years, GetEQUAL has staged media and direct action campaigns pushing the president to sign this order, including actions by GetEQUAL Florida organizer Jarrod Scarbought and his husband Les Sewell at the 2012 White House Easter Egg Roll.
“We’re thrilled that the White House is finally taking action on LGBT workplace discrimination—action that is long overdue, but that will finally begin to address the enormous hurdles that LGBT individuals face in finding and keeping a job in this country,” GetEQUAL Co-Director Heather Cronk, said in a released statement.
Though Cronk is concerned that the order may include religious exemptions, she added, “It is now vitally important for all of us to insist that this executive order, when eventually signed by the president, does not include religious exemptions that would permit taxpayer dollars to be spent on discrimination. We will continue to be vigilant about this important aspect of the executive order—LGBT Americans need these protections immediately, and without the gaping holes that exemptions would create.”