President Obama signed two Executive Orders today that will protect employees of the federal government and its contractors and subcontractors from being discriminated against based on their sexual orientation and gender identity.
The orders are amendments to previous orders from two administrations of the 1960s.
Executive Order 11246, issued by President Lyndon Johnson in 1965, prohibits discrimination by federal contractors on the basis of race, color, sex, religion, and natural origin. Obama's order added " sexual orientation" and "gender identity" to the list and applies to "24,000 companies designated as federal contractors whose 28 million workers make up a fifth of the country's workforce," according to Jonathan Capehart of the Washington Post.
This isn't the first time Johnson's order has been amended. In 2002, President George W. Bush added a protection that would permit religiously affiliated entities to favor members of their own faith when making hiring decisions.
"[Today's] order doesn't change that," Ilona Turner, legal director at the Transgender Law Center, told KCET. "Many of us believe that President Obama should in fact repeal that element of the existing executive order because it is pretty outrageous, frankly, to use taxpayer money to discriminate against anyone."
Obama's other action today amends President Richard Nixon's 1969 order, which prohibits the federal government itself from discriminating on the basis of race, color, religion, sex, national origin, disability, or age. "Sexual orientation" was added to the list of protected classes in 1998 by President Bill Clinton and "gender identity" was added today.
18 states, including California, and the District of Columbia currently have laws that protect LGBT employees at private businesses from being fired on the basis of their sexual orientation or gender identity, but no federal law protects them from being fired, according to the White House.
"This is a very important day for LGBT Americans," added Turner. "The president has sent a strong message to employers that discriminating because of who someone is or who they love, is not acceptable."