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to Section One | to Arts & Entertainment
posted Friday, December 5, 2014 - Volume 42 Issue 49
Labor Department issues rules to protect LGBT workers - Good start, but not enough, says Pride At Work
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Labor Department issues rules to protect LGBT workers - Good start, but not enough, says Pride At Work

by Mike Andrew - SGN Staff Writer

The U.S. Department of Labor issued new rules prohibiting discrimination against LGBT workers by employers who contract with the federal government on December 3. The rules implement Executive Order 13672, signed by President Obama on July 21.

Pride At Work, the LGBT labor group affiliated with the AFL-CIO, commended the President and Labor Secretary Thomas Perez, but warned that the order is 'not a silver bullet.'

Obama's order charged the Labor Department with updating federal rules prohibiting discrimination by companies that do business with the federal government. Sexual orientation and gender identity were added to the list of prohibited forms of discrimination.

'Americans believe in fairness and opportunity. No one should live in fear of being fired or passed over or discriminated against at work simply because of who they are or who they love,' Perez said in the Labor Department statement.

'Laws prohibiting workplace discrimination on the bases of sexual orientation and gender identity are long overdue, and we're taking a big step forward today to fix that.'

The newly revised rules are the first federal actions to ensure equality for LGBT workers. About 25% of the U.S. workforce would be covered.

Pride At Work Executive Director Jerame Davis welcomed the new rules, but noted that LGBT protections were still limited.

'At Pride at Work, we welcome this long-awaited change to federal contractor employment policy,' Davis said.

'We commend the President and his Administration for its commitment to LGBT equality and, especially, for standing up for LGBT workers, but this rule is not a silver bullet.'

Davis added that in 29 states it is still legal under state laws to fire LGBT workers solely because of their sexual orientation or gender identity. In three others, sexual orientation is protected but gender identity is not.

For that reason, Davis continued, 'it is still true that the best - and sometimes only - workplace protections for vulnerable workers is a strong union contract.'

Like most national LGBT activist groups, Pride At Work dropped its support for ENDA (the Employment Non-Discrimination Act) in the wake of the Supreme Court's Hobby Lobby decision. In that ruling the high court affirmed a broad religious exemption from the Affordable Care Act, and LGBT activists worried that the religious exemption language in ENDA would be used to gut protections for LGBT workers.

Nevertheless, Davis urged Congress to pass 'a clean, comprehensive LGBT anti-discrimination bill.' He also warned that 'even with these rules and laws in place, the added protection of a union contract is a necessary and vital part protecting LGBT workers.'

Meanwhile, the Republican-controlled House rejected a Democratic attempt to bring ENDA to the floor. The Senate passed ENDA in a bipartisan vote last year.

Representative Alcee Hastings (D-FL) introduced an amendment in the House Rules Committee to attach ENDA to the 2015 defense authorization bill. Had the committee passed Hastings' amendment, ENDA would have gone to the floor for a vote along with the defense spending measure.

The proposal was defeated, however, on a 7-3 party-line vote. ENDA sponsor Jared Polis (D-CO) was absent from the committee meeting, as was Republican ENDA supporter Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R-FL), but the committee is stacked with conservative Republican members and the amendment would have gone down to defeat anyway.

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