[JURIST] A White House official said Monday that US President Barack Obama [JURIST news archive] will sign an executive order that would bar federal contractors from discriminating on the basis of sexual orientation or gender identity. This action marks a departure [Reuters report] from the White House's position last year that an executive order would carry less weight than congressional legislation. Following a year of pressing Congress to pass such a ban, taking executive action on other domestic priorities and receiving pressure from gay rights activists, Obama instructed his staff to draft the order. According to a White House official, the order would expand upon protections [Huffington Post report] prohibiting discrimination based race, color, religion, sex or national origin. The official went on to say that this was consistent with the president's views that all Americans should be treated with dignity and respect regardless of sexual orientation or gender identity. Advocates estimate that the order would cover [Politico report] one in five lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender employees nationally, or about 28 million workers overall.
Discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity has recently been a controversial issue in the US. In November the US Senate approved [JURIST report] the Employment Non-Discrimination Act [text], a bill outlawing workplace discrimination against gay, bisexual and transgender Americans, by a vote of 64 to 32, though the bill has made no progress in the House of Representatives. The US Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee (HELP) [official website] in July approved a version [JURIST report] of ENDA. HELP held a hearing [JURIST report] in June 2012 regarding ENDA, focusing on discrimination faced by LGBT employees across the country. Earlier in June 2012 JURIST Guest Columnist Brynne Madway argued [JURIST op-ed] that the LGBT community must shift some of its focus to promoting anti-discrimination laws, noting that only a small number of states have nondiscrimination laws that include gender identity and sexual orientation. In January the Virginia Senate initially approved legislation [JURIST report] that would prohibit the state government from discriminating against its employees based on sexual orientation.