110 members of Congress urge Obama to sign federal-contractor executive order

Posted by Justin Snow
March 20, 2013 2:50 PM |

Calls for President Barack Obama to sign an executive order prohibiting federal contractors from LGBT discrimination continued today.

Obama WH letter.jpgIn a letter sent to Obama today, 110 Democratic members of the House of Representatives urged the president to sign the executive order long called for by advocates, which would ban federal contractors from discriminating on the basis of sexual orientation or gender identity. Such protections already prohibit federal contractors from discrimination on the basis of race, color, religion, sex and national origin.

Led by Reps. Frank Pallone (D-N.J.) and Jared Polis (D-Colo.), the letter sent today included an additional 38 members of Congress who did not sign their names to a similar letter sent last year. 

"It is unacceptable that it remains legal to fire or refuse to hire someone based on his or her sexual orientation or gender identity. Federal law continues to allow this and discrimination based on sexual orientation is legal in 29 states and discrimination because of gender identity is legal in 34 states," the letter reads. "Action at the federal level can put a stop to these unfair and discriminatory workplace practices in every state."

Although Obama publicly supports the Employment Non-Discrimination Act (ENDA), 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.

While the signees state that they remain committed to passage of ENDA, which would ban LGBT workplace discrimination across the country, they argue that Obama could "take action today to help prevent these types of unfair labor practices and to lay the groundwork for passage of ENDA."

"Our laws must match our values as Americans, which is why it is so critical to provide equal protections to all workers," Polis, who is gay and the sponsor of ENDA in the House, said in a statement. 

Added Pallone, "An executive order by the President is a necessary step forward in our efforts for LGBT equality, one that must be accompanied by passage of the Employment Non-Discrimination (ENDA) by Congress."

The Williams Institute at the UCLA School of Law estimates such an executive order would protect up to 16.5 million workers. Although workplace protections for LGBT people exist in some states, it remains legal in 29 states to fire an employee based on sexual orientation, and legal in 34 states to fire someone based on gender identity.

Today's letter was one of several that have been sent to the president in recent weeks. Last month, 37 senators and 54 progressive groups sent letters to Obama urging him to act. 

The Human Rights Campaign, Freedom to Work and the American Civil Liberties Union have led efforts to pressure the president to act and praised the more than 100 representatives who lent their names to the fight for workplace protections. 

"An executive order from President Obama would ensure that hundreds of thousands of LGBT federal contract employees could go to work every day without fear of being fired for who they are or who they love," said HRC President Chad Griffin in a statement. 

According to Freedom to Work President Tico Almeida, "It's now time for President Obama to build on his impressive record and sign this executive order giving millions of Americans a fair shot to build a career based on their talent and hard work."

UPDATE @4:15PM: The names of House Democratic leadership, including Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (Calif.) and Democratic Whip Steny Hoyer (Md.) were missing from the letter sent today. According to spokesman Drew Hammill, Pelosi generally does not sign group letters as custom. 

"President Obama has demonstrated time and time again that he is committed to ending discrimination wherever it exists," Hammill told Metro Weekly. "Leader Pelosi supports this effort, but it does not diminish the need for a fully-inclusive ENDA law and a Majority in the House to approve such legislation."

Rep. Debbie Wasserman-Schultz (D-Fl.), who has served as a vice chair of the LGBT Equality Caucus, also did not sign the letter.

In response to the letter, White House spokesman Shin Inouye reiterated today that the president has long supported an inclusive ENDA and his administration will continue to build support for it.

"Regarding a hypothetical Executive Order on LGBT non-discrimination for federal contractors, I have no updates for you on that issue," Inouye said.

[Photo: Barack Obama in the Oval Office (Official White House photo by Pete Souza)]

Read the full letter here:

House Letter to Obama on Executive Order for LGBT Contractor Employees

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