By Michelle Garcia
Originally published on Advocate.com March 20 2013 2:24 PM ET
Congress members have asked President Barack Obama to sign an executive order prohibiting federal contractors from discriminating in the workplace based on sexual orientation or gender identity.
One hundred ten members of Congress signed the open letter, sent to the president Wednesday. Though Obama has been a long supporter of the Employment Non-Discrimination Act, which would prohibit discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation or gender identity, he has not indicated that he would sign an executive order.
Last year a group of 72 House members sent a similar letter to the president. However, White House press secretary Jay Carney said the president did not believe an executive order would be ideal way to deal with the lack of a nondiscrimination policy. Carney said Obama was "committed to lasting and comprehensive nondiscrimination protections, and we plan to pursue a number of strategies to attain that goal." Though President Lyndon Johnson's executive order barring discrimination by federal contractors on the basis of gender, race, religion, has been in effect since 1965, President Obama has expressed his preference for Congress, including the Republican-majority House, to pass ENDA.
On Wednesday 110 Congress members wrote, "We remain committed to passage of the Employee Non-Discrimination Act (ENDA), which would ban employment discrimination based on an individual's sexual orientation or gender identity. However, you can take action today to help prevent these types of unfair labor practices and to lay the groundwork for passage of ENDA."
At least 16.5 million Americans would be protected under the proposed executive order, according to the Williams Institute, as federal contractors are one of the largest employer subsets in the country. But currently it is legal to fire people on the basis of their sexual orientation in 29 states and legal to fire people on the basis of their gender identity or expression in 34 states. Because of this, approximately 43% of LGB people and 90% of transgender people have experienced some sort of workplace discrimination.
"With a majority of American workers living in states that have not passed laws granting LGBT employees legal protections from workplace discrimination, an executive order will provide broad protections that will level the playing field," the Congress members wrote.