WASHINGTON (AFP) – US President Barack Obama signed an executive order Monday outlawing federal employment discrimination based on gender identity and strengthening other LGBT protections.
Supporters of expanded anti-bias protections for members of the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender communities have sought legal action for years, but in the absence of legislative moves by Congress, the president exercised his executive authority to end certain discriminations.
Obama’s order prohibits sexual orientation-related discrimination by companies that contract with the federal government, a move affecting firms that employ millions.
“America’s federal contracts should not subsidize discrimination against the American people,” Obama said shortly before signing the order.
“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,” Obama said.
“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.”
The federal government already bars discrimination based on race, origin, gender, religion, age, and sexual orientation.
“Once I sign this order, the same will be explicitly true for gender identity,” Obama said to applause at a White House signing ceremony.
“We’re on the right side of history.”
To the relief of some rights groups, Obama did not include new religious exemptions in the order that were called for by religious leaders.
“Obama’s unwillingness to add religious exemptions sends a strong message that religious beliefs should never be used to justify discrimination,” said Graeme Reid, LGBT rights director at Human Rights Watch.
No federal law currently prohibits an employer from sacking someone because of his sexual orientation, although 18 of the nation’s 50 states have adopted state laws to that effect.
Obama said activists and others should continue to pressure US lawmakers “to pass federal legislation that resolves this problem once and for all.”
Executive orders can be repealed by future administrations