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Obama to issue executive order to protect LGBT workers

Order to bar workplace discrimination by federal contractors

President Barack Obama is expected to issue an executive order that prohibits federal contractors in the United States from discriminating against people because of their sexual orientation or gender identity, a long-awaited move that LGBT rights advocates have been pressing him to make.

An official at the White House told The Washington Blade that Obama has called for the order to be prepared, though it remains unclear when he will sign it.

“The action would build upon existing protections, which generally prohibit federal contractors and subcontractors from discriminating in employment decisions on the basis of race, colour, religion, sex, or national origin,” the official notes.

Chad Griffin, executive director of the Human Rights Campaign (HRC), says the news is “promising” and he looks forward to seeing the details. “By issuing an executive order prohibiting federal contractors from discriminating against LGBT people, the president will not only create fairer workplaces across the country, he will demonstrate to Congress that adopting federal employment protections for LGBT people is good policy and good for business.”

Groups like the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force (NGLTF) say many who don’work for federal contractors will still lack workplace protections, even as they welcome the news. “Now we must redouble our efforts for the urgent passage of state employment protections and strong federal legislation,” NGLTF executive director Rea Carey says, according to The Wall Street Journal.

According to the HRC, it is legal in 29 states to fire or refuse to hire people because of their sexual orientation, while 32 states do not have legislation that prevents discrimination based on gender identity.

In November, the Senate passed the Employment Non-Discrimination Act (ENDA), a more comprehensively protective measure than the prospective executive order, but it has yet to be acted upon by the House of Representatives. If enacted, ENDA would prohibit discrimination against workers based on their sexual orientation or gender identity and would apply to any private company with more than 15 employees.

However, because ENDA contains protections for religious organizations that dont want to hire people because of their sexual orientation or gender identity, several LGBT advocacy groups have signalled that they do not support the measure, saying it essentially grants permission to discriminate. Others say they back it because of the protections it affords, despite concerns about the current religious exemption.