Legislation is not enough to protect gay contractors, equal rights advocates say


An executive order that would extend discrimination protections to gay federal workers is not forthcoming, a senior administration official said Thursday. Instead, the Obama administration is hoping that a bill mulling in Congress for the last 18 years will eventually bring about the workplace protections that gay rights advocates and lawmakers have been seeking.

Lawmakers have proposed but never passed legislation to extend workforce discrimination protections to cover sexual orientation during almost every session of Congress since 1994. Language to cover gender identity discrimination was added to the proposed bill, called the Employment Non-Discrimination Act,  in 2007.

But the bill itself would not go as far as an executive order, according to experts at the Center for American Progress. CAP staff compared the proposed legislation to similar protections provided in a 1965 executive order that prohibits discrimination based on race, color, religion, sex, or national origin.

The proposed bill would apply to employers with 15 or more employees, whereas a new executive order would likely cover any business that receives a government contract for more than $10,000, CAP experts said in a recent article.

Also, people who want to report gender identity or sexual orientation discrimination would file complaints with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, under the proposed bill. Under an executive order, people discriminated against by federal contractors could also file complaints through the Office of Federal Contract Compliance Programs, which conducts more proactive compliance reviews on companies, CAP experts said in the article.

More than 16 million employees of federal contractors either work for companies or reside in states that do not provide explicitly protect workers from discrimination based on gender identity and sexual orientation, according to a February report by UCLA’s Williams Institute, which conducts research on sexual orientation and gender identity law and public policy.

Freedom to Work, which seeks anti-discrimination policies for lesbians, gays, bisexuals, and transgender workers, collected more than 110,000 signatures in an online petition asking the president to issue the executive order. Seventy-two House members, led by Rep. Frank Pallone, D-NJ, signed a letter to the president requesting the order as well.

Officials from Freedom to Work, the Center for American Progress and National Gay and Lesbian Task Force met with White House officials this week to talk about President Obama’s plan to keep a campaign promise he made before becoming president. They left disappointed.

“It remains legal to fire or refuse to hire people based on their sexual orientation in more than half the country – 29 states; the same is true for gender identity in 34 states,” Rea Carey, executive director of the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force said in a statement. “Given the huge gap in statewide protections, the administration and Congress must step up to protect LGBT people and their families nationally.”


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