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Capps Urges President Obama to Address Workplace LGBT Discrimination

Rep. Lois Capps, D-Santa Barbara, 147 other members of the U.S. House of Representatives and 47 members of the U.S. Senate sent a letter Tuesday to President Barack Obama urging him to sign an executive order banning federal contractors from engaging in employment discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation or gender identity.

The letter urges the president to fulfill his promise from his State of the Union address to make 2014 a “year of action” by building “upon the momentum of 2013 by signing an executive order banning federal contractors from engaging in employment discrimination against lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender Americans.”

For several years, Capps has been a leader on this issue and has pushed the president to act. In 2012, she led the first congressional effort on this issue with Rep. Frank Pallone and then-Rep. Barney Frank, and in 2013 she led a subsequent letter to the president with Pallone and Rep. Jared Polis.

“The president should immediately issue and sign an executive order banning federal contractors from engaging in employment discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation or gender identity. With workers across the country facing discrimination every day, the time is now to make sure workplace discrimination isn’t supported by taxpayer funds,” Capps said. “This issue has lingered for far too long and this year, in the president’s year of action, he should take this opportunity to expand employment protections. Doing so would be a significant and meaningful advancement for LGBT Americans — legally, politically and culturally.

“Many LGBT Americans are less concerned with how these protections are put in place — whether they come from a bill the president signs into law or an executive order — they simply want and need protection from workplace discrimination. This is a simple act that can make a tremendous difference in the lives of 16.5 million Americans. I have encouraged the president’s action on this for years and will not stop pushing this issue. It is time for the president to act.”

“Congresswoman Capps has been a consistent and key ally in the fight for equal rights for LGBT employees across the nation for many years,” Rep. Polis said. “Her continued efforts and leadership to persuade President Obama to exercise his executive power to help end discrimination towards LGBT workers has provided the momentum to more than quadruple support in Congress in this important battle for equality in federal contracting.”

“We are grateful for Congresswoman Capps’ leadership on behalf of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender Americans,” said Allison Herwitt, vice president for government affairs, Human Rights Campaign. “Few in Congress can match her commitment, dedication and hard work to ensure that every citizen is treated with dignity and respect regardless of who they are or who they love.”

The estimate that an Executive Order would protect 16.5 million more workers comes from a 2012 study of Equal Employment Opportunities Commission reports from the Williams Institute, a national think tank that is part of the UCLA Law School.

Capps is also a strong supporter the Employment Non-Discrimination Act, and it committed to bringing it up for a vote in the House. The ENDA would prohibit discrimination in hiring and employment on the basis of gender identity or sexual orientation. The Senate passed ENDA with a bipartisan vote last year, and there are currently more than 200 bipartisan co-sponsors — including Capps — in the House.

The text of the letter is below.

March 18, 2014

The President
The White House
1600 Pennsylvania Ave, NW
Washington, DC 20500

Dear Mr. President,

We are writing to urge you to fulfill the promise in your State of the Union address to make this a “year of action” and build upon the momentum of 2013 by signing an executive order banning federal contractors from engaging in employment discrimination against lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) Americans. As you have said before, “now is the time to end this kind of discrimination, not enable it.”

As we continue to work towards final passage of the Employment Non-Discrimination Act (ENDA) with strong bipartisan support, we urge you to take action now to protection millions of workers across the country from the threat of discrimination simply because of who they are or who they love. We are committed to doing all that we can in Congress to get ENDA to your desk this year; however, there is no reason you cannot immediately act by taking this important step. This executive order would provide LGBT people with another avenue in the federal government they could turn to if they were the victim of employment discrimination by a federal contractor. When combined with ENDA, these non-discrimination protections would parallel those that have been in place for decades on the basis of race, sex and religion.

An executive order covering LGBT employees would be in line with a bipartisan, decades-long commitment to eradicating taxpayer-funded discrimination in the workplace. In 1941, President Roosevelt prohibited discrimination in defense contracts on the bases of race, creed, color, or national origin.  In subsequent executive orders, Presidents Roosevelt, Truman, Eisenhower, Kennedy, and Johnson expanded these protections to ensure that taxpayer dollars are not used to discriminate.

In addition, most of the largest government contractors — companies like Boeing, Raytheon, and Lockheed Martin — have LGBT non-discrimination policies in place. They adopted them because business leaders recognize that discrimination is bad for the bottom line.

Finally, time is of the essence. Even with an executive order in place, full implementation of these protections will require regulations to be developed and finalized, a process that will take many months, if not longer, to fully put in place.

Issuing an executive order prohibiting discrimination against LGBT workers in federal contracts would build on the significant progress for LGBT rights made during your time as president and would further your legacy as a champion for LGBT equality. We urge you to act now to prevent irrational, taxpayer-funded workplace discrimination against LGBT Americans.

Chris Meagher is the press secretary for Rep. Lois Capps, D-Santa Barbara.

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