More than 50 progressive organizations called on President Barack Obama to sign an executive order prohibiting federal contractors from discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity in a letter sent to the White House today.
Led by the Human Rights Campaign, Freedom to Work and the American Civil Liberties Union, the letter calls for Obama to "take an immediate step toward legal equality by signing an executive order banning federal contractors from discriminating against lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) Americans."
Noting the president's record on LGBT issues during his first term, the letter urges the president to begin his second term "by taking strong executive action to prevent irrational workplace discrimination against LGBT Americans."
"The time to act is now," the letter concludes.
The letter comes as Obama has faced increased pressure since his re-election to sign such an executive order, which already prohibits federal contractors from discrimination on the basis of race, color, religion, sex and national origin. According to the Williams Institute at the UCLA School of Law, adding sexual orientation and gender identity to federal contractor executive order would protect up to 16.5 million more workers. It remains legal in 29 states to fire someone based on sexual orientation and legal in 34 states to do so based on gender identity, according to the Human Rights Campaign.
"Issuing an executive order is a crucial step toward ending workplace discrimination against LGBT people," said HRC President Chad Griffin in a statement. "After a historic pro-equality first term, President Obama could level the playing field for LGBT employees of federal contractors with the stroke of a pen and ensure they have an equal opportunity to succeed."
Although Obama publicly supports the Employment Non-Discrimination Act, he has backed off of his support for an executive order after indicating as a candidate for president in 2008 that he would sign such an order. The White House has repeatedly said the president would prefer to see ENDA passed and all workers protected instead of adding proctecions only for those employed by federal contractors.
Advocates, however, have argued the executive order would help build momentum for ENDA and protect at least some LGBT workers now. As a policy memo released yesterday by the Center for American Progress and the Williams Institute notes, presidents have historically preempted Congress by signing executive orders making workplace nondiscrimination protections mandatory for federal contractors before the existence of federal statutes.
"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," said ACLU Executive Director Anthony D. Romero in a statement.
Added Tico Almeida, president of Freedom to Work, "Nearly 175,000 Americans have signed Freedom to Work's online petition asking President Obama to issue an executive order to save our taxpayer money from subsidizing workplace discrimination. We are grateful to the dozens of national organizations joining today's letter to urge the President that the time to act is now."
Today's letter comes on the heels of a similar letter signed by 37 senators last week calling for Obama to sign the executive order.
Despite growing pressure for action, the White House gave no new updates today on the executive order called for by advocates.
"The President has long supported an inclusive Employment Non-Discrimination Act (ENDA) and his Administration will continue to work to build support for it," White House spokesman Shin Inouye said in a statement to Metro Weekly.
[Photo: Barack Obama (Official White House photo by Pete Souza)]
Read the full letter here: