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Executive Order Protecting LGBT Contract Workers Takes Effect

Obama's action bans federal contractors from discriminating against employees because of sexual orientation or gender identity.

President Obama’s executive order banning federal contractors from discriminating against applicants and employees based on their sexual orientation or gender identity officially took effect on Wednesday.

The order, which expands on an executive order issued by President Lyndon Johnson in 1965 that prohibited federal contractors from discriminating against any employee or applicant for employment because of race, color, religion, sex or national origin, “makes clear that the federal government will not do business with anyone who discriminates against lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender workers,” said Anne Rung, administrator for the Office of Federal Procurement Policy at the Office of Management and Budget, in an April 8 blog post.

The E.O. applies to federal contractors and subcontractors who do more than $10,000 in business with the government in one year. “Federal contractors have decades of experience complying with anti-discrimination laws, and today’s action simply ensures they extend the same protections to their LGBT workers,” Rung said.

Obama issued the amended executive order in July 2014, saying at the time, “America’s federal contracts should not subsidize discrimination against the American people.” The E.O. directed the Labor Department to implement rules, and the final rule was published on Dec. 9 in the Federal Register, with an April 8, 2015, effective date. A separate July 21, 2014, executive order expanded on previous guidance issued by President Bill Clinton that prohibited discrimination against federal employees based on sexual orientation. Obama’s update prohibits discrimination based on an individual’s gender identity.

The Professional Services Council, which represents hundreds of federal contractors, has said it supports Obama’s directive, noting that most organizations doing business with the federal government have already barred discrimination based on sexual orientation.

Rung said in her blog post that “of the largest 50 federal contractors, which represent nearly half of all federal contracting dollars, 86 percent prohibit sexual orientation discrimination and 61 percent prohibit discrimination based on gender identity.” But she said that “no federal law adequately protects LGBT workers” and “in too many sectors and too many states” LGBT workers can be fired for their sexual orientation or gender identity.

The White House estimated that the order will affect 24,000 companies that employ 28 million workers, about one-fifth of the nation’s workforce.

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