In a historic step for LGBT rights in the workplace, President Obama plans to issue an executive order banning workplace discrimination against lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender individuals working for federal contractors, a White House official informed the Associated Press on Monday.Although the official would not comment on when Obama would sign the order, the announcement comes as Congress waffles on the passage of the Employment Non-Discrimination Act, which would prohibit discrimination on the basis of gender or sexual identity for all American workers. As of now, employees can legally be denied a promotion or fired outright because of their sexual orientation in 29 states; in 32, they have no workplace protection from prejudice against their gender identity.As the Associated Press points out, though Obama himself cannot mandate change for the entire country, "the order being drafted by the White House would impact about 14 million workers." In the past, Obama has also used such executive orders to pressure Congress to take action on issues ranging from climate change to the minimum wage.American Civil Liberties Union Executive Director Anthony D. Romero released a statement recognizing the power of this pressure, which said in part:This is a historic announcement. President Obama’s commitment to LGBT equality will be one of his lasting legacies. This President has done more for the struggle for LGBT equality than all previous presidents combined. For more than 70 years, presidents, both Democratic and Republican, have used executive orders to eradicate taxpayer-funded discrimination in the workplace.The announcement also comes just one day before the Democratic National Committee’s annual gay and lesbian fundraiser, which Obama reportedly plans to attend.
Ethan Corey is a writer and researcher based in New York. His work has appeared in The Nation, Rolling Stone and MEL magazine.