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President set to expand employment protection for LGBT workers

Both advocacy groups and legal circles around the nation were abuzz this week over the Obama Administration’s announcement that the president would soon be signing an executive order designed to significantly expand employment protections and end anti-gay discrimination in at least one work setting.

Specifically, administration officials indicated that President Obama would be signing an executive order expressly banning discrimination by federal contractors based on either sexual orientation or gender identity.

According to advocates, the executive order could provide much-needed employment protection to roughly 11 million lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender employees here in the U.S.

“This is consistent with the president’s views that all Americans, LGBT or not, should be treated with dignity and respect,” said one official.

Political experts indicate that President Obama’s decision to move forward with a more limited executive order is perhaps reflective of his growing frustration with the complete lack of forward momentum in Congress concerning the Employment Non-Discrimination Act.

Sponsored by a bipartisan group of lawmakers, ENDA would make it illegal under federal law to punish or terminate an employee based solely on sexual orientation. While the measure has already been passed in the Senate, it has all but stalled out in the House of Representatives.

Similarly, political experts indicate that the president’s actions should perhaps not come as a surprise given his prior commitment to making 2014 a “year of action.” Specifically, he has expressed his intention of relying on his “pen and phone” to help introduce meaningful change in areas where Congress has otherwise floundered.  

News of the executive order was greeted with great enthusiasm by many lawmakers on Capitol Hill, including Sen. Jeff Merkley (D-OR), who served as one of the architects of ENDA.

“[The order will enable] millions more Americans to go to work empowered with the right to do their jobs free of harassment or discrimination,” he said.

It remains to be seen how Congress will respond to this action. In the meantime, it’s important for those who believe they have been discriminated against on the basis of their sexual orientation here in Minnesota to understand that they have rights and can hold their employer accountable for their actions.

Source: The Los Angeles Times, “White House: Obama to sign order banning anti-gay discrimination,” Christi Parsons and Michael Memoli, June 16, 2014

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