After months of dodging questions about the progress of an executive order prohibiting discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity in federal contracting, the White House won’t issue the directive, but will instead study whether gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender employees require employment protections, ThinkProgress has learned. The news comes after White House senior advisor Valerie Jarrett held a meeting with LGBT advocates to discuss the matter.
Existing studies suggest that 11 to 16 million additional employees would have gained protections as a result of the measure, since many “federal contractors do not currently have those policies, and they employ millions of workers.” Among them are Jarrod Scarbrough and Les Sewell, a gay couple who attended Monday’s Easter Egg Roll at the White House to ask Obama to sign the order. “Jarrod works for a company that the government contracts through, and we live in New Mexico — we’re actually protected, we don’t have to worry too much about being discriminated against. However, in June we’re moving to Florida where that protection, we’ll no longer have that,” Sewell explained during an appearance on MSNBC. “Without this administrative action, Jarrod could lose his job and then where would this family be?”
Equality advocates who had been working to advance the measure are asking similar questions. “Today’s news that the White House’s Council of Economic Advisors will launch a study to better understand workplace discrimination against gay and transgender Americans is confounding and disappointing,” said Winnie Stachelberg, the Executive Vice President for External Affairs at the Center for American Progress. “The President should use his executive authority to extend existing nondiscrimination requirements of federal contractors to include sexual orientation and gender identity,” she added.
Earlier this month, 72 Congressional lawmakers urged the administration to enact the order, noting that it would “extend important workplace protections to millions of Americans, while at the same time laying the groundwork for Congressional passage of the Employment Non-Discrimination Act (ENDA).” Data show that “43 percent of LGB people and 90 percent of transgender people have experienced workplace discrimination” and that the overwhelming majority of Americans — 73 percent — would have supported a measure prohibiting it.
The delay represents a departure for the president who committed to supporting a “formal written policy of non-discrimination that includes sexual orientation and gender identity or expression…for all Federal contractors” as a candidate in 2008 and pledged to fight for the community in 2009 and 2011. “I’m here with a simple message: I’m here with you in that fight,” Obama told the Human Rights Campaign in 2009, adding, “Nobody in America should be fired because they’re gay, despite doing a great job and meeting their responsibilities. It’s not fair. It’s not right. We’re going to put a stop to it.”