I was truly shocked to read in The New York Times of April 12th that “President Obama disappointed and vexed gay supporters on Wednesday with his decision, conveyed to activists by a senior adviser, not to sign an executive order banning discrimination by employers with federal contracts.” Had he signed such an executive order--that both Labor and the Department of Justice supported—he could have banned federal contractors from engaging in employment discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity.
The current federal law, which bans discrimination in employment, applies to a number of subsets including race, color, religion, sex or national origin, but does not ban discrimination based on sexual orientation or gender identity. The President supports adding both classifications to the existing law.
However, the President does not have to await the passage of the adding of sexual orientation and gender identification as protected classifications to the law in order to prohibit such discrimination by contractors to the federal government. He can, by executive order, prohibit those contractors wishing to do business with the federal government—during this period when there is no federal law applying to the private sector—from engaging in such discrimination.
When I was elected Mayor of New York City in 1977, taking office January 1, 1978, I issued such an executive order prohibiting such discrimination within the first 30 days of my administration. It took until 1986 – eight more years – for the City Council to pass a law that applied to the private sector that prohibited discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation, which included lesbians, gays, bisexuals and transgender individuals.
Today in the US, only 21 states, the District of Columbia and 163 cities and counties have enacted such laws prohibiting discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity. Of the 21 states, 5 states have state laws that protect against discrimination based on sexual orientation only.
New York State does not protect those with gender identity issues. Pending in the state legislature is a bill called the Gender Expression Non-Discrimination Act. In the Assembly, the bill’s number is A-5039; in the Senate, it is S-6349. Constituents should tell their legislators to pass them.
The public is ahead of the legislators they elected to Congress who will not enact such protections. According to a Gallup poll, 53 percent of Americans support same-sex marriage. Surely, an even larger number support ending discrimination in employment based on sexual orientation and gender identity.
Mr. President, you have led the way on so many social needs. Please rethink your position on this one. The LGBT community has suffered discrimination too long to be asked to wait even longer.