The president’s directive, which will apply to all federal contractors, will mark another milestone in protections for LGBT workers. A leading association that represents contractors, however, worries that the move could send the wrong message about their equality record.
President Obama has ordered his team to draft an executive order banning workplace discrimination against employees of federal contractors who are lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender.
“The president’s intentions are clear,” an unnamed White House official told the Huffington Post when questioned about the report.
With a highly partisan Congress refusing to help further Obama’s policy goals, the president has followed up on his State of the Union pledge to use more executive orders by signing five so far this year to advance his agenda. And he has also used a different tack, the executive memo, to start the ball rolling on altering overtime pay regulations.
But some associations, though in favor of workplace equality, don’t want Obama’s order to leave a stain on government contractors.
“It should also be noted that recent surveys have shown that some of the largest government contractors are already among the most progressive companies in this regard,” Stan Soloway, president and CEO of the Professional Services Council, told Government Executive. “Thus, we shouldn’t lose sight of the fact that the E.O. [executive order] is being issued as a proxy for a broader legislation and not because there is any evidence of a particular problem among government contractors when it comes to equality of employment.”
A memo from the Center for American Progress and the Williams Institute sent to then-Rep. Barney Frank of Massachusetts obtained by the Washington, DC, publication Metro Weekly in early 2012, for example, stated that “at least 61 percent of [federal contractor] employees are already covered by laws or private policies against sexual orientation discrimination.”
That count was 10 percent higher than that of noncontractor employees.
And for other groups with interest in the issue, Obama’s decision marks just another victory in a long fight for greater protections.
“Countless LGBT workers across the country will be able to rest easier once a strong executive order is in place, but there is no denying that the time has come to do even more,” Human Rights Campaign President Chad Griffin said in a statement. The advocacy group then called for the House of Representatives to take action on the Employment Non-Discrimination Act, which currently sits in legislative limbo in that chamber.
Nonetheless, the implication of Obama’s planned executive order for workplaces is clear: Offices that lack policies to prevent discrimination against LGBT employees may find the federal government will mandate they do so.