Roll Call: Latest News on Capitol Hill, Congress, Politics and Elections
August 29, 2015

Lawmakers Push Executive Order Banning LGBT Discrimination by Contractors

(Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call File Photo)

(Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call File Photo)

Nearly 200 Democratic lawmakers have written to President Barack Obama seeking an executive order barring federal contractors from discriminating against lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender individuals in employment practices.

The letter, which Democratic caucus members on both sides of the Capitol have signed on to, lists Sen. Jeff Merkley of Oregon and Rep. Jared Polis of Colorado as the first two signatories.

“An executive order covering LGBT employees would be in line with a bipartisan, decades-long commitment to eradicating taxpayer-funded discrimination in the workplace. In 1941, President Roosevelt prohibited discrimination in defense contracts on the bases of race, creed, color, or national origin,” the lawmakers write. “In subsequent executive orders, Presidents Roosevelt, Truman, Eisenhower, Kennedy, and Johnson expanded these protections to ensure that taxpayer dollars are not used to discriminate.”

Asked about the idea of an executive action on rules for federal contractors last month, White House Press Secretary Jay Carney had nothing new to announce.

“Our position is and has been that we strongly support the Employment Non-Discrimination Act. We note the progress made in the Senate,” Carney said in February. “The fact that there’s been movement in the Senate on this, and I think against some of the conventional wisdom we’ve seen movement on this. On the broader range of issues around LGBT rights, we’ve seen dramatic progress, and we’re going to keep pressing Congress to catch up with the country on these issues.”

The Senate passed the employment non-discrimination measure, often known by the acronym ENDA, in November 2013. There’s been no floor action in the House.

The full text of the letter appears below:

Dear Mr. President,

We are writing to urge you to fulfill the promise in your State of the Union address to make this a “year of action” and build upon the momentum of 2013 by signing an executive order banning federal contractors from engaging in employment discrimination against lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) Americans. As you have said before, “now is the time to end this kind of discrimination, not enable it.”

As we continue to work towards final passage of the Employment Non-Discrimination Act (ENDA) with strong bipartisan support, we urge you to take action now to protection millions of workers across the country from the threat of discrimination simply because of who they are or who they love. We are committed to doing all that we can in Congress to get ENDA to your desk this year; however, there is no reason you cannot immediately act by taking this important step. This executive order would provide LGBT people with another avenue in the federal government they could turn to if they were the victim of employment discrimination by a federal contractor. When combined with ENDA, these non-discrimination protections would parallel those that have been in place for decades on the basis of race, sex and religion.

An executive order covering LGBT employees would be in line with a bipartisan, decades-long commitment to eradicating taxpayer-funded discrimination in the workplace. In 1941, President Roosevelt prohibited discrimination in defense contracts on the bases of race, creed, color, or national origin. In subsequent executive orders, Presidents Roosevelt, Truman, Eisenhower, Kennedy, and Johnson expanded these protections to ensure that taxpayer dollars are not used to discriminate.

In addition, most of the largest government contractors – companies like Boeing, Raytheon, and Lockheed Martin – have LGBT non-discrimination policies in place. They adopted them because business leaders recognize that discrimination is bad for the bottom line.

Finally, time is of the essence. Even with an executive order in place, full implementation of these protections will require regulations to be developed and finalized, a process that will take many months, if not longer, to fully put in place.

Issuing an executive order prohibiting discrimination against LGBT workers in federal contracts would build on the significant progress for LGBT rights made during your time as President and would further your legacy as a champion for LGBT equality. We urge you to act now to prevent irrational, taxpayer-funded workplace discrimination against LGBT Americans.

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