ACLU supports President Obama’s non-discrimination executive order

constitutionThe American Civil Liberties Union of Virginia today expressed strong support for President Obama’s decision to amend existing federal Executive Orders to prohibit discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity by federal contractors and the federal government.

“Today’s action by President Obama moves us one step closer to achieving true equality for all people,” said ACLU of Virginia Executive Director Claire Guthrie Gastañaga. “For the thousands of lesbian, gay, bi-sexual, and transgender (LGBT) Virginians who work for federal contractors and the federal government, this announcement is long overdue. Now that federal workers, employees of all federal contractors, and employees of most all Fortune 1000 businesses located in Virginia are protected by lgbt non-discrimination policies, the failure of the Virginia legislature to enact such non-discrimination protections for employees of Virginia’s state and local agencies and constitutional officers will, in addition to being a moral imperative, become more and more of a competitive and business disadvantage for our economy and for Virginia’s ability to attract and retain the best employees for our state and local workforce.”

Because of the relatively larger number of federal contractors and federal employees in Virginia, President Obama’s action will have an especially widespread effect in the Commonwealth. Among other things, a significant number of Virginia’s community colleges and public universities are federal contractors (i.e., they provide more than $10,000 in contracted educational and research services to the military and other federal agencies) that will be covered by the revised Executive Order. These Virginia institutions will have to amend their non-discrimination policies to comply with the Executive Order and write lgbt employees into required written affirmative action plans if they have contracts exceeding $50,000 or they will have to stop accepting federal contracts.

President Obama’s action today simply extended protections included in Executive Order 11246 (in place since 1965) that prohibit discrimination by federal contractors, including those with religious affiliations, and the protections in Executive Order 11478 (in place since 1969) that prohibit discrimination in federal employment to lgbt workers. Executive Order 11246 now bars entities that have more than $10,000 in contracts with the federal government from engaging in discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity (previously it only barred discrimination based on sex, race, national origin, and religion). Executive Order 11478, in addition to barring discrimination based on sex, sexual orientation, race, national origin, religion, age, and disability, now also protects transgender employees of the federal government from discrimination.

Neither of the Executive Order amendments signed into law today included in the existing Executive Orders any exceptions authorizing religious discrimination by either the federal government or federal contractors. Unfortunately, as the federal government moves forward with these protections, the Commonwealth is moving in the opposite direction when it comes to licensing discrimination. Earlier this year, the General Assembly passed legislation that allows genetic counselors to deny services to lgbt Virginians if doing so would violate a counselor’s ‘deeply held moral or religious beliefs.’ And, Virginia groups have already signaled that they want to extend this license to discriminate to all professional service providers in the Commonwealth.”

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