John M. Becker

Obama Signs Historic LGBT Workplace Executive Order

Filed By John M. Becker | July 21, 2014 3:00 PM | comments

Filed in: Gay Icons and History, Politics
Tags: Amanda Simpson, Barack Obama, ENDA, ENDA executive order, executive order, historical milestones, nondiscrimination policy, White House, workplace discrimination

obama-signs-LGBT-workplace-EO.JPGThis morning, President Barack Obama signed an executive order forbidding businesses that receive federal contracts from discriminating against LGBT people in the workplace.

Today's action fulfills a promise Obama made to the LGBT community during his 2008 presidential run, and comes after a sustained pressure campaign from LGBT advocates, organizations, members of Congress, and the media. Federal contractors account for more than 20 percent of the American workforce, and according to the Williams Institute, Obama's executive order will protect 14 million LGBT workers from discrimination.

It is the single largest expansion of LGBT worker protections in American history.

The Washington Blade's Chris Johnson reports on the scope of today's order:

Obama amended Executive Order 11246 -- which prohibits federal contractors from engaging in discrimination based on race, color, religion, sex, or national origin -- to prohibit these companies from engaging in anti-LGBT bias in employment based on sexual orientation and gender identity... Additionally, Obama amended Executive Order 11478 -- which prohibits discrimination in the federal civilian workplace -- to bar discrimination based on gender identity. In 1998, President Clinton amended the directive to prohibit discrimination against employees of the U.S. government based on sexual orientation.

The signing ceremony, held in the White House East Room, was attended by dozens of advocates, politicians, and government officials, including Senators Tammy Baldwin and Jeff Merkley, White House senior adviser Valerie Jarrett, Brigadier General Tammy Smith, Tim Gill, Elizabeth Birch, and representatives from HRC, the Task Force, GLAAD, GetEQUAL, Freedom to Work, Freedom to Marry, PFLAG, and the Family Equality Council.

The air in the room crackled with anticipation as we awaited the President's arrival. On two occasions the chatter suddenly stopped, as though Obama was about to enter. But both were false alarms and conversations quickly resumed. At one point after the ceremony's scheduled starting time, a voice came over the microphone and said "Ladies and gentlemen..." Everyone drew their breath, expecting the next words to be "...the President of the United States." But no, what followed was an announcement that the ceremony would soon begin.

Finally, at 10:39 a.m., it did: President Obama swept into the room, and the assembled guests leaped to their feet with cheers, shouts, and thunderous applause -- an ovation unlike any I've ever heard at an LGBT White House event.

Further details, including video, more exclusive photos from the event, a transcript of Obama's remarks, a copy of the executive order, and reactions from LGBT groups, are after the jump.

When the applauding crowd finally allowed Mr. Obama to begin his remarks, he said that today belongs to hardworking LGBT equality advocates across the country and noted the historic nature of what was about to take place:

"It doesn't make much sense, but today in America, millions of our fellow citizens wake up and go to work with the awareness that they could lose their job, not because of anything they do or fail to do, but because of who they are -- lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender. And that's wrong. We're here to do whatro we can to make it right -- to bend that arc of justice just a little bit in a better direction."

crowd-waits-for-obama-onstage-EO.JPGStanding onstage alongside the President as he spoke were Virginia Democratic Governor Terry McAuliffe, Deputy Secretary of Labor Chris Lu, Rabbi David Saperstein, Rev. Delman Coates, Office of Federal Contract Compliance Programs Director Pat Shiu, BiNet USA president Faith Cheltenham, Trans People of Color Coalition founder Kylar Broadus, and LGBT workplace advocates Michael Carney and Anne Vonhof. Fellow equality advocates Mia Macy, Chad Griffin, Brad Sears, Tobias Wolff, and Winnie Stachelberg met with Obama briefly before the ceremony began.

The President hailed the "irrefutable rightness of [the] cause" of employment nondiscrimination and applauded Sens. Baldwin and Merkley for their work on the issue, calling on Congress to pass federal legislation to make workplace equality "the federal law of the land." Notably, Obama made no specific reference to the Employment Non-Discrimination Act (ENDA), or to the controversy over its troublingly broad religious exemption. He noted that the cause of LGBT civil rights has made "extraordinary progress" during his administration and added that equality supporters are "on the right side of history."

And then, at 10:47 a.m., President Obama signed the executive order.

As we've noted previously here at Bilerico, today's order did not contain a religious exemption, despite an aggressive campaign waged by several groups of faith leaders to pressure Obama into adding one. The exemption would have allowed religiously-affiliated organizations to continue discriminating against LGBT people while still receiving federal taxpayer money.

Instead, Obama chose to listen to the dozens of pro-equality religious leaders -- including retired Episcopal Bishop and signing ceremony attendee Gene Robinson -- who lobbied hard for an exemption-free executive order, so that LGBT workers could receive the same protections given to members of all other minority groups.

AmandaSimpson.jpgMany in attendance this morning have spent years working to expand workplace protections for LGBT people -- including my friend Amanda Simpson, executive director of the Army Energy Initiatives Task Force and the first openly transgender female presidential appointee in American history. She waved hello from her seat, and I waved back and placed my hands over my heart, grateful to be present at such an important moment for America's LGBT community. She smiled and nodded, mouthing the words "fifteen years" as a lump formed in my throat.

Afterwards she explained, telling The Bilerico Project:

"Fifteen years ago I started efforts to add gender identity to the non-discrimination policies of corporations, particularly large aerospace and defense companies. At the time, none had done so; most today have. But by the President's signature today, all federal contractors will have to extend employment protections to transgender Americans.

"It was really nice to be witness to that."

Indeed it was. The world is now a little bit fairer for LGBT workers, and the arc of moral universe today bent a little further towards justice. I'm proud of and grateful to President Obama for making that possible, and I'm honored to have been able to witness this pivotal moment in LGBT history.

Watch the Signing Ceremony

The Order

President Obama's LGBT Workplace Executive Order

Transcript of President Obama's Remarks

July 21, 2014


East Room

10:39 A.M. EDT

THE PRESIDENT: Welcome to the White House, everybody. I know I'm a little late. But that's okay because we've got some big business to do here.

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. (Laughter.) 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.

AUDIENCE MEMBER: Amen. (Applause.)

THE PRESIDENT: It doesn't make much sense, but today in America, millions of our fellow citizens wake up and go to work with the awareness that they could lose their job, not because of anything they do or fail to do, but because of who they are -- lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender. And that's wrong. 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.

In a few moments, I will sign an executive order that does two things. First, the federal government already prohibits employment discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation. Once I sign this order, the same will be explicitly true for gender identity. (Applause.)

And second, we're going to prohibit all companies that receive a contract from the federal government from discriminating against their LGBT employees. (Applause.) America's federal contracts should not subsidize discrimination against the American people.

Now, this executive order is part of a long bipartisan tradition. President Roosevelt signed an order prohibiting racial discrimination in the national defense industry. President Eisenhower strengthened it. President Johnson expanded it. Today, I'm going to expand it again.

Currently, 18 states have already banned workplace discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity. And over 200 cities and localities have done the same. Governor Terry McAuliffe is here; his first act as governor was to prohibit discrimination against LGBT employees of the Commonwealth of Virginia. (Applause.) Where did Terry go? Right back here.

I've appointed a record number of lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender public servants to positions across my administration. They are ambassadors and federal judges, special assistants, senior advisors from the Pentagon to the Labor Department. Every day, their talent is put to work on behalf of the American people.

Equality in the workplace is not only the right thing to do, it turns out to be good business. That's why a majority of Fortune 500 companies already have nondiscrimination policies in place. It is not just about doing the right thing -- it's also about attracting and retaining the best talent. And there are several business leaders who are here today who will attest to that.

And yet, despite all that, in too many states and in too many workplaces, simply being gay, lesbian, bisexual or transgender can still be a fireable offense. There are people here today who've lost their jobs for that reason. This is not speculative, this is not a matter of political correctness -- people lose their jobs as a consequence of this. Their livelihoods are threatened, their families are threatened. In fact, more states now allow same-sex marriage than prohibit discrimination against LGBT workers. So I firmly believe that it's time to address this injustice for every American.

Now, Congress has spent 40 years -- four decades -- considering legislation that would help solve the problem. That's a long time. And yet they still haven't gotten it done. Senators Terry [Tammy] Baldwin and Jeff Merkley are here. They have been champions of this issue for a long, long time. We are very proud of them. I know they will not stop fighting until fair treatment for all workers is the federal law of the land. Everyone thanks them for that. (Applause.)

But 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.


THE PRESIDENT: Amen. Amen. (Applause.) Got the "amen" corner here. (Laughter.) Well -- (sings) -- (laughter.) You don't want to get me preaching, now. (Laughter.)

For more than two centuries, we have strived, often at great cost, to form "a more perfect union" -- to make sure that "we, the people" applies to all the people. Many of us are only here because others fought to secure rights and opportunities for us. And we've got a responsibility to do the same for future generations. We've got an obligation to make sure that the country we love remains a place where no matter who you are, or what you look like, or where you come from, or how you started out, or what your last name is, or who you love -- no matter what, you can make it in this country.

That's the story of America. That's the story of this movement. I want to thank all of you for doing your part. We've got a long way to go, but I hope as everybody looks around this room, you are reminded of the extraordinary progress that we have made not just in our lifetimes, but in the last five years. In the last two years. (Applause.) In the last one year. (Applause.) We're on the right side of history.

I'm going to sign this executive order. Thank you, everybody. (Applause.)

(The executive order is signed.)

END - 10:47 A.M. EDT

Exclusive Photos

Before the ceremony, the executive order sits on a table, awaiting President Obama's signature.

I was standing right next to the White House livestream camera. They told me that if I move, the camera will shake. For the sake of everyone watching at home I did my best to be still; the lady thanked me afterwards and said it went well, so I assume I didn't cause any shaking!

Two more crowd shots:



Chad Griffin, president of the Human Rights Campaign, taking his seat:

White House senior adviser Valerie Jarrett:

President Obama delivers his remarks.


House Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi:

"Today, we reaffirm the great promise of our nation: E pluribus unum. 'Out of many, we are one.' Each generation of Americans moves us closer to fulfilling that promise. By advocating for fairness and speaking out against injustice, we have an opportunity to continue that legacy.

"The President's executive order represents long-awaited progress for LGBT Americans, but we must act to ensure these basic standards of fairness apply to all Americans. We must work to pass a strengthened Employment Non-Discrimination Act in the House of Representatives, where Republicans have been blocking bipartisan legislation passed in the Senate from debate and amendment in the House. Discrimination has no place in our nation - not in our workplaces, not in our schools, not in our society and not in our government."

Human Rights Campaign president Chad Griffin:

"With this action, President Obama has cemented his legacy as a transformative leader. Consistently, this administration has taken unprecedented and historic executive actions to advance LGBT equality in this country and around the world.

"The focus now shifts to the House of Representatives, where the Employment Non-Discrimination Act must be brought to a vote by the House leadership. A bipartisan coalition of Americans is standing behind LGBT equality, a bipartisan coalition of our elected leaders should be doing the same."

National Center for Transgender Equality executive director Mara Keisling:

"With President Obama's signature today, millions of LGBT Americans now have explicit workplace protections that ensures they and their families aren't cut out of a job because of who they are. Though Congress must act to extend explicit LGBT nondiscrimination protections to all Americans, NCTE celebrates this advancement as one step forward in the ongoing fight to end anti-transgender bias and prejudice in the workplace."

National Council of La Raza:

"NCLR has long held the belief that the workplace should be a level playing field where people can succeed or fail based on their own merits," said Eric Rodriguez, Vice President of the Office of Research, Advocacy and Legislation at NCLR. "Unfortunately, far too many states in this country do not have the types of protections in place that would prevent employers from firing a person simply because of his or her sexual orientation or gender identity. While the president's action today is a critical step toward remedying this injustice, much more needs to be done. In order to ensure that all LGBT Americans are treated equally within the workplace, the House of Representatives must pass a long-overdue legislative solution that extends beyond federal contractors--the Employment Non-Discrimination Act."

GetEQUAL director Heather Cronk:

"Today was a great step forward in affirming that the federal government of the United States will not tolerate LGBTQ discrimination -- but we still have much work left to do. We must continue to push for full federal equality for LGBTQ Americans, and GetEQUAL intends to do that by seeking an end to a record number of inhumane deportations, ending the religious discrimination that contributes to so many of our youth ending up on the streets, and pushing for an LGBTQ civil rights bill that will fully and finally make LGBTQ Americans equal under the law."

Pride at Work interim executive director Jerame Davis:

"Underscoring his commitment to workers and LGBT equality, President Obama's signature on this Executive Order today will help protect federal employees and federal contract workers from discrimination based on sexual orientation or gender identity. This historic act will extend much-needed workplace protections to lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender workers across the nation. We applaud the President for taking this important step toward equality.

"Though the number of unprotected LGBT workers decreased significantly today, it's still true that the best - and sometimes only - workplace protections for vulnerable workers is a strong union contract. In the majority of states, there are still no protections for LGBT workers and Congress has stalled on passing non-discrimination protections that are unencumbered by extraneous exemptions.

"Today we can celebrate a step toward full equality, but the effort to protect workers in the workplace continues."

Gay & Lesbian Advocates & Defenders interim executive director Gary Buseck:

Every day we hear about LGBT people who are not treated equally on the job. We agree with the President that workers should be judged only by their ability to get the job done, but know that is not always the reality.

We applaud today's executive order, which demonstrates a concrete commitment to nondiscrimination on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity. It's a step that will make the workplace better and fairer for LGBT employees, including the tens of thousands of federal employees in the New England states.

We are proud that New England has been a leader in establishing protections on the basis of gender identity and sexual orientation and that, in the absence of broad federal protections, this executive order extends important protections for LGBT employees who work for federal contractors.

LGBT employees of the federal government or of federal contractors can contact GLADAnswers for information about their rights in the workplace, and to access information and resources:

ACLU executive director Anthony D. Romero:

"This is one of the most important actions ever taken by a president to eradicate LGBT discrimination from America's workplaces. By signing this order, President Obama is building on a bipartisan tradition, dating back over 70 years, of barring discrimination without exception when taxpayer dollars are involved. While there remains much work still to do to achieve the goal of full civil rights protections for LGBT people, we must take time to celebrate the landmarks along the way, and this is a huge win."

American Bar Association president James R. Silkenat:

The American Bar Association commends President Obama for signing an executive order banning federal contractors from discriminating against employees on the basis of their sexual orientation or gender identity. The order is a positive step towards full equality under the law in our country and will offer added protection from discrimination to some 14 million federal contract workers whose employers or states currently do not ban workplace discrimination against gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender individuals. The executive order also prohibits discrimination against all federal workers on the basis of gender identity. Previously, federal workers were only protected from discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation.

Unfortunately, the law in 29 states allows employers to fire or refuse employment to a person based on sexual orientation and 32 states also lack explicit laws banning discrimination based on gender identity, according to the Human Rights Campaign. While the new executive order holds federal contractors to a higher standard and provides additional protections to federal workers, the ABA urges federal, state, local, and territorial governments to enact legislation prohibiting discrimination on the basis of actual or perceived gender identity or sexual orientation, in employment, housing and public accommodations.

The ABA has a long tradition of actively opposing discrimination. Whenever any of our basic civil rights are diminished or marginalized on the basis of personal characteristics, all of our basic civil rights are jeopardized.

Union Theological Seminary:

Present at today's signing ceremony was Rev. Fred Davie, Executive Vice President of Union Theological Seminary and a member of the LGBT community. "Today at the White House I witnessed the arc of history bend toward justice," said Davie. "This is a tremendous victory for those of us who believe that as people of faith we should be exemplary, not exempted. Leaving out a religious exemption is simply the right thing to do, both theologically and civically. It is my obligation, and desire, as a Christian and a member of human community to love my neighbor and it is my obligation as a citizen to treat all my fellow citizens equally, regardless of sexual orientation or gender identity."

The Rev. Dr. Katharine Rhodes Henderson, president of Auburn Theological Seminary, said, "We stand in support of President Obama's executive order to curb discrimination and to protect lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) workers, and affirm his decision not to include a religious exemption."

"Churches, synagogues, mosques and the like can celebrate that our precious separation of church and state still protects them from government interference, and LGBT people can celebrate the freedom to get and hold a job without facing discrimination at the hands of religious people," said Bishop Gene Robinson, the first openly gay bishop in the Episcopal Church. "That's a good thing for both religion and society."

"What President Obama has recognized is that the call to government service is not limited by sexual orientation or gender identity," said Rev. Harry Knox, President and CEO of the Religious Coalition for Reproductive Choice and a member of Obama's first White House Faith Advisory Council. "He has courageously expanded the opportunities for service to all who hear that call and in doing so has affirmed the highest values of our country and our diverse faiths."

"Those of us who are old enough to remember hearing religious arguments for segregation know that just because an argument is based on religious tradition doesn't mean it's just or good," said Rev. Brian McLaren, a leading evangelical and head of the Cana Initiative. "That's why so many of us who believe in religious liberty don't want religious liberty used as a smokescreen to aid, abet, and protect prejudice."

National Black Justice Coalition executive director and CEO Sharon Lettman-Hicks:

"President Obama's decision to protect LGBT workers contracting with the federal government is a powerful sign that our nation continues to make progress on expanding equality and opportunity to all. But the fight on this issue is far from over. It's beyond troubling that more states permit marriage equality than prohibit LGBT discrimination in the workplace. What sense does it make to be able to marry, but have to live in fear of losing your job simply because of who you are or who you love? This injustice must be made right by Congress passing nondiscrimination protections for all our nation's workers, no matter their backgrounds."

Williams Institute executive director Brad Sears:

"The executive order will help reduce the number of American workers who can be harassed or fired based on their actual or perceived sexual orientation and gender identity. Williams Institute research has documented pervasive and persistent patterns of workplace discrimination in all fifty states; however, our analysis indicates that state and local nondiscrimination laws protect only a portion of the American workforce."

Transgender Law Center:

Kris Hayashi, Transgender Law Center Deputy Director[:] "This executive order provides much needed clarity to federal contractors and agencies. President Obama today sent a clear message to employers that receive federal money that it is unacceptable for them to discriminate because of who someone is or who they love."

Thankfully, the order does not contain any new exemption language that would permit religiously affiliated employers to discriminate based on sexual orientation or gender identity, as LGBT advocates had urged. Rather, it simply adds sexual orientation and gender identity to the list of characteristics already protected from discrimination, and leaves intact a Bush-era exemption that permits religious organizations to discriminate in favor of fellow members of their faith.

"Our nation's laws should have no blanket exemptions to permit any employers to discriminate against LGBT people," said Ilona Turner, Transgender Law Center Legal Director. "We are grateful that the President recognized that discrimination based on sexual orientation or gender identity should be treated no differently, and given no greater exceptions, than discrimination on other bases."

Courage Campaign executive chairman Dr. Paul Song:

"Today our nation is taking another important step towards creating a more perfect union. President Obama's action today is another historic milestone as we create a more just and equal workplace for all. Now Congress must act to ensure all Americans are protected and treated equally."

Center for Inquiry representative Michael De Dora:

"We applaud President Obama for issuing an Executive Order that will protect LGBT Americans from discrimination by federal contractors. We are especially relieved and encouraged that the president has chosen not to bend once again to the enormous pressure applied by religious interests, but has recognized that, at the very least, taxpayer funded work must never be done under the shadow of discrimination. This will ensure that all LGBT individuals are protected -- including those who work for federal contractors that consider themselves religious.

"Too often religious beliefs are used as an excuse to avoid obeying laws that apply to everyone else, as the regrettable Supreme Court decision in the Hobby Lobby case illustrates. While there is still room for improvement in this new order - the president has once again refused to close a Bush-era loophole that allows religiously affiliated federal contractors to favor individuals of the same faith when hiring - they are a welcome step in the right direction, toward a secular government in which religion can't be used as a shield for prejudice and unequal treatment."

Americans United for Separation of Church and State executive director Rev. Barry W. Lynn:

"Religious groups have no right to accept taxpayer money and engage in rank forms of discrimination," said the Rev. Barry W. Lynn, executive director of Americans United. "Faith-based groups that tap the public purse should play by the same rules as everyone else and not expect special treatment. No forms of discrimination should be supported with the taxpayer dime, period."

National Partnership for Women & Families president Debra L. Ness:

"Today President Obama once again took action to root out discrimination in our workforce, this time by issuing a very welcome and much-needed executive order that prohibits federal contractors from discriminating against workers who are lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender (LGBT). This executive order is an important advance for fairness and for families.

"Equal opportunity is the most fundamental of American values and we all lose when discrimination is allowed to continue. The federal contractor workforce employs more than one in five private sector workers in this country, so today's action will have a real impact by promoting fairness and strengthening businesses, our economy and our country.

"The nation needs Congress to pass a strong, inclusive Employment Non-Discrimination Act (ENDA) to put an end, once and for all, to the shameful days when discrimination against LGBT workers is legal. Today's action is a critical step and Congress should take the next one by passing ENDA."

Family Research Council (anti-gay hate group) spokesman Peter Sprigg:

"President Obama has ordered employers to put aside their principles, and practices in the name of political correctness. This level of coercion is nothing less than viewpoint blackmail that bullies into silence every contractor and subcontractor who has moral objections to homosexual behavior. This order gives activists a license to challenge their employers and, expose those employers to threats of costly legal proceedings and the potential of jeopardizing future contracts.

"Religious faith is not simply a matter of intellectual affirmation but of active practice. A religious organization which is denied the power to require its employees to conduct their lives in a way consistent with the teachings of their faith is an organization which is being denied the right to exercise its religion, period. People with deeply held convictions regarding the morality of certain types of sexual behavior should not be bound by the dictates of President Obama's agenda.

"The President's policies are keeping the economy in the tank. He strangled the financial and health sectors by passing a health care law that's trampling employers' freedom and crushing their bottom lines. Now, as if those burdens weren't enough, the President's party wants to tell companies how they should run their businesses, and how they can and cannot practice their moral convictions and religious faith.

"President Obama is legislating without Congress. Now, the American people will be left to sort out the costs to religious and constitutional liberties resulting from this rule by decree."

National Organization for Marriage Discrimination president Brian S. Brown:

"The fact is that non-discrimination rules like the order issued by President Obama can become a weapon used to punish and harass individuals and groups who support marriage as the union of one man and one woman. As with the flawed ENDA (Employee Non-Discrimination Act) legislation that was rejected by Congress, President Obama's order has the great potential of putting employers in the position of standing up for their faith values or violating the new order. This will unnecessarily subject people of faith to harassing complaints and lawsuits.

"All manner of frivolous lawsuits could result from an action like this, and that's a dangerous thing when the courts have already shown such a lack of restraint when it comes to the question of the definition of marriage. This is nothing more than an agenda to create a cultural narrative wherein the belief in marriage as the union of one man and one woman becomes the legal and social equivalent of bigotry or hate speech. It is the next step on a path we've already seen this administration proudly pursuing, a path toward a new thought-policing state where those who hold traditional values about marriage and family are to be marginalized."

Exclusive photos by John Becker for the Bilerico Project.

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