On Monday (July 21), President Barack Obama signed an executive order banning workplace discrimination against LGBT employees of the federal government and federal contractors. 

The executive order has two parts, as the Huffington Post explains. In addition to explicitly banning discrimination against transgender employees of the federal government, it makes it illegal for federal contractors to fire or harass workers based on their gender orientation or sexual identity.

While some had feared that Obama would leave room for contractors with strong religious beliefs to discriminate against workers whose lifestyles they disagree with, he neglected to write in such an exemption. What he did instead, the Huffington Post explains, was add the terms “sexual orientation” and “gender identity” into the language of existing legislation designed to protect employees of federal contractors.

“The President and the American people firmly believe that all Americans deserve to be treated with dignity and respect in the workforce,” Valerie Jarrett, a senior adviser to the president, told Jonathan Capehart in an interview for the Washington Post. “At a critical time for our nation’s economy, we need all of our workers to be focused on making the most of their talent, skill and ingenuity, rather than worrying about losing their job due to discrimination.”

While LGBT advocates insist there’s still a great deal of work to be done — it remains legal in 32 states to harass or fire LGBT employees — President Obama said on Monday that he’s doing what he can with the power available to him. Given that the federal government contracts with 24,000 firms whose 28 million employees account for one-fifth of the America’s workforce, the new law has the potential to affect millions of people.

“America’s federal contracts should not subsidize discrimination against the American people,” Obama said. “I’m going to do what I can with the authority I have to act.”

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