Jul 27, 2014

Obama Signs Historic Workplace Protections Orders

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On July 21, President Obama took the historic step of protecting LGBT federal workers and requiring companies that have contracts (valued at $10,000 or more) with the federal government to do the same. President Obama amended Executive Order 11246 and Executive Order 11478, changing the language of both to include both sexual orientation and gender identity. The LGBT Democrats of Virginia applaud President Obama for making this step and encourage our legislators, both on the federal and state level, to expand on this step, and PROTECT ALL WORKERS.

Prior to signing the legislation, President Obama spoke out about the continued need for this type of legislation. “It doesn’t make any sense, but today in America, millions of our federal citizens wake up and go to work with the awareness that they could lose their job, not because of what they do and fail to do, but simply because of who they are — lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender — and that’s wrong,” Obama said. “We’re here to do what we can to make it right — to bend that arc of justice just a little bit in a better direction.” These changes in legislation will cover about 20% of the workforce in the United States, still leaving a gap that needs attention.

Amending these Executive Orders is an important step and President Obama acknowledged the hard work of activists that have been fighting for this day. “Many of you have worked for a long time to see this day coming. You organized, you spoke up, you signed petitions, you sent letters — I know because I got a lot of them. And now, thanks to your passionate advocacy and the irrefutable rightness of your cause, our government — government of the people, by the people, and for the people — will become just a little bit fairer.” He also urged activist to continue the fight. “… I’m going to do what I can, with the authority I have, to act. The rest of you, of course, need to keep putting pressure on Congress to pass federal legislation that resolves this problem once and for all.”

Two Executive Orders were expanded. Executive Order 11246, issued by President Lyndon B. Johnson, prohibits federal contractors from discriminating “against any employee or applicant for employment because of race, color, religion, sex, or national origin.” President Obama’s Executive Order will add sexual orientation and gender identity to the list of protected categories. President Obama’s Executive Order does not allow for any exemption beyond the one added by Executive Order 13279, issued by President George W. Bush, which permits religiously affiliated contractors to favor individuals of a particular religion when making employment decisions. Executive Order 11478, issued by President Nixon, bars discrimination against federal employees on the basis of race, color, religion, sex, national origin, disability, and age, and was amended by Executive Order 13087, issued by President Clinton, to include sexual orientation. President Obama’s Executive Order will add gender identity to the list of protected categories. (for more information: http://tinyurl.com/ExpandingExecutiveOrders)

The changes to Executive Order 11478 will go into effect immediately. The amendments to Executive Order 11246 require changes in labor regulations and are expected to be in full effect by the beginning of 2015. This Order is administered and enforced by the U.S. Department of Labor’s Office of Federal Contract Compliance Programs (OFCCP).

The LGBT Democrats of Virginia are excited that 20% of the nation’s workforce, including many of the workers in Virginia, will be protected, as are Virginia state employees currently. Governor McAuliffe issued a state Executive Order immediately after his inauguration protecting state employees and was present on stage when President Obama signed the amendments to the federal legislation. We are constantly aware however that many Virginians still struggle in a system that allows discrimination in the majority of jobs. The LGBT Democrats of Virginia will continue to push our legislators, both state and federal, to pass laws that will protect all workers. In addition, the LGBT Democrats of Virginia support legislation that will add Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity to all federal protections.