A coalition of 54 groups is ramping up pressure for President Obama to sign a heavily sought-after executive order barring federal contractors from discriminating against LGBT workers.
In a letter dated Feb. 20, a coalition of LGBT advocacy group and other civil rights organizations — such as those representing the black and Latino community — call on Obama to take administrative action to protecting workers from anti-LGBT workplace bias.
“Over the past 70 years, both Republican and Democratic presidents have used executive orders to ensure that taxpayer money is not wasted on workplace discrimination or harassment based on characteristics such as race, gender, and religion,” the letter states. “These contractor policies exist to this day, and they cover almost one in four jobs throughout the United States. It is now time for an executive order ensuring the same workplace protections for LGBT Americans.”
Standalone legislation that would provide broader protections for LGBT people, but has languished in Congress for decades, is known as the Employment Non-Discrimination Act.
Among the LGBT groups whose leaders penned their names to the letter are the Human Rights Campaign, Freedom to Work and GetEQUAL, which have previously called for the executive order.
Tico Almeida, president of Freedom to Work, drew attention to his organization’s petition calling for the executive order in a statement from the groups accompanying the letter.
“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,” Almeida said. “We are grateful to the dozens of national organizations joining today’s letter to urge the President that the time to act is now.”
Other groups are the American Civil Liberties Union, the liberal think-tank the Center for American Progress and civil rights group such as the National Council for La Raza and Mexican American Legal Defense & Educational Fund.
Anthony Romero, executive director of the ACLU, said the executive order would build off existing policy put in place to protect workers against discrimination in previous administrations.
“By banning federal contractors from discriminating against LGBT Americans, President Obama would extend the commitment to non-discrimination first made by President Roosevelt more than 70 years ago when he signed an executive order integrating the nation’s shipyards and other worksites run by defense contractors,” Romero said. “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.”
Another signer is the Leadership Conference on Civil & Human Rights, which last week sent its own missive to Obama calling for the directive, saying, “issuing an executive order to ban federal contractors from discriminating against LGBT employees helps promote equality for all individuals under the law.”
One of the arguments of the letter is that most top government contractors — such as Boeing, Raytheon, and Lockheed Martin — already have non-discrimination policies in place protecting LGBT workers in place and the new directive would “primarily impact those hold-out contractors that are still complicit in sanctioning anti-LGBT workplace discrimination or harassment.” According to the statement accompanying the letter, 57 percent of government contractors already have these polices in place.
The letter from the organizations comes on the heels of another missive last week from 37 senators calling on Obama to issue the directive. It’s also similar to a letter sent last year from 72 House Democrats saying the time is now for the directive.
Calls on Obama to issue the executive order have intensified since Republicans took control of the House in 2010 and passage of ENDA became unlikely. In April, the White House announced it wouldn’t issue the directive at this time and is still pursuing a legislative solution to the issue.
That’s been more-or-less been the message from the Obama administration since that time. However, the Washington Post reported last week that Obama is thinking about reversing the decision to withhold the executive order if lawmakers don’t act.
Shin Inouye, a White House spokesperson, reiterated the administration’s previous position in response to the latest letter.
“The president has long supported an inclusive Employment Non-Discrimination Act (ENDA) and his administration will continue to work to build support for it,” Inouye said.
UPDATE: An initial version of this article said 53 groups had signed the letter. The National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, or NAACP, signed on late, bringing the total number of groups to 54.