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Obama grants workplace protections to LGBT workers of federal contractors

Barack Obama
President Barack Obama signs executive orders to protect LGBT employees from federal workplace discrimination in the East Room of the White House Monday, July 21, 2014, in Washington. Obama’s executive orders signed Monday prohibit discrimination against gay and transgender workers in the federal government and its contracting agencies, without a new exemption that was requested by some religious organizations. Jacquelyn Martin, AP

Obama said 18 states and more than 200 local governments already ban employment discrimination based on sexual orientation, as well as a majority of Fortune 500 companies. But he noted that more states allow same-sex marriage than prohibit gay discrimination in hiring.

“It’s not just about doing the right thing, it’s also about attracting and retaining the best talent,” Obama said.

The change for federal contracting will affect some 24,000 companies with 28 million workers, or one-fifth of the U.S. workforce. Many large federal contractors already have employment policies barring anti-gay workplace discrimination. However, the Williams Institute at UCLA Law School estimates that the executive order would extend protections to about 14 million workers whose employers or states currently do not have such nondiscrimination policies.

While few religious organizations are among the biggest federal contractors, they do provide significant services, including overseas relief and development programs and re-entry programs for inmates leaving federal prisons.

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Obama’s signature amended two executive orders. The first, signed by President Lyndon Johnson in 1965, prohibits federal contractors from discriminating based on race, religion, gender or nationality in hiring. President George W. Bush had amended Johnson’s order in 2002 to add the exemption for religious groups.

Obama added sexual orientation and gender identity to the list of protections, and ordered the Labor Department to carry out the order. Administration officials said that means the change will probably take effect by early next year.

Obama also amended an order signed by President Richard Nixon in 1969 to prevent discrimination against federal workers based on race, religion, gender, nationality, age or disability.

President Bill Clinton added sexual orientation, and Obama included gender identity in his change, which took effect immediately.

Transgender workers already had some employment protections because of the EEOC ruling in the Macy case. But the law could be interpreted differently under a future commission, and the White House said Obama felt it was important to explicitly prohibit gender identity discrimination through an executive order.

The order is here.

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