April 8, 2015 at 11:23 am EDT | by Chris Johnson
Obama executive order against LGBT discrimination takes effect

Barack Obama, United States of America, White House, Democratic Party, executive order, discrimination, gay news, Washington Blade

President Barack Obama signed an executive order barring anti-LGBT workplace discrimination for federal contractors. (Washington Blade photo by Michael Key).

Federal contractors as of Wednesday are no longer able to allow anti-LGBT discrimination in their workplaces as long as they conduct business with the U.S. government.

The executive order that President Obama signed in July prohibiting federal contractors from engaging in anti-LGBT discrimination took effect on Wednesday, which was 120 days after the Labor Department’s rule to implement the order was made final.

Labor Secretary Tom Perez said in a blog post on the Department of Labor’s website the executive order is “a civil rights victory consistent with our founding principles.”

“It will mean a more dynamic and inclusive workforce that captures the talents of more of our people,” Perez said. “It advances the principle that we should be leaving no one on the sidelines, that America is strongest when it fields a full team.”

The executive order, which applies to contractors and subcontractors that do $10,000 a year or more with the federal government, is to date the most sweeping action ever prohibiting discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation or gender identity in the U.S. workforce.

The White House has estimated the order will impact 24,000 companies who receive federal contracts and 28 million people, or about one-fifth of the nation’s workforce.

Tico Almeida, president of the LGBT group Freedom to Work, noted the executive order was the result of years of campaigning by his group and other LGBT advocates.

“At long last, the Department of Labor has opened its doors to LGBT Americans who face harassment or discrimination on the job at the companies that profit from federal contracts,” Almeida said. “We encourage LGBT workers who face discrimination at contractors to simultaneously file a dual complaint with both the Labor Department and the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, which accepts LGBT complaints under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act.”

Many federal contractors already had non-discrimination protections in place prior to the executive order, although there was some exceptions, such as oil-and-gas giant Exxon Mobil. The company, which has received more than $1 billion in federal contracts over the past 10 years, had rejected protections for its LGBT workers during its annual shareholder meeting 17 times.

After the final rule for the order was announced, Exxon Mobil declared in January it had adopted non-discrimination protections on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity in its equal employment opportunity policy.

Valerie Jarrett, a senior adviser to Obama, wrote in an op-ed for The Advocate the executive order is a component of the country’s “journey toward a more perfect union.”

“As a mother, I know that when someone’s child suffers, all of our children suffer,” Jarrett said. “When a lesbian, gay, bisexual, or transgender American is denied fair treatment in the workplace, it should both offend and concern us all as to the sanctity of our collective rights as Americans. Because protecting our collective civil rights is at the core of who we are as Americans, and it is the responsibility of each of us to ensure we do what is needed to make possible a better future for our children and grandchildren.”

Chris Johnson is Chief Political & White House Reporter for the Washington Blade. Johnson attends the daily White House press briefings and is a member of the White House Correspondents' Association. Follow Chris

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