A few weeks ago during Pride Month, I wrote about my belief that the nation and the workforce are strongest when we fully embrace diversity. Everyone, no matter whom they love, should have the opportunity to achieve their highest and best dreams. And the idea that you could be fired for no other reason than your sexual orientation does violence to our values.
That’s what President Obama believes. So today, he signed an executive order extending workplace protections to LGBT employees of federal contractors and of the federal government.
“Thanks to your passion and advocacy and the irrefutable rightness of your cause,” the President said to advocates gathered in the East Room at the White House, “our government – government of the people, by the people and for the people – will become just a little bit fairer.”
My colleagues in the Office of Federal Contract Compliance Programs have enforced the government’s nondiscrimination laws for federal contractors for years. Their work ensures that contractors and subcontractors doing business with the government don’t use taxpayer money to discriminate in employment on the basis of race, color, religion, sex, national origin, disability, or status as a protected veteran. With this executive order, it will also include America’s LGBT workers.
We still need to go further. Passage of federal legislation to prohibit employment discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation or gender identity would mean that all workers across the country would enjoy these protections. But with Congress failing to lead on this issue, the President is taking the initiative as part of this Year of Action.
Today’s executive order is a civil rights victory consistent with our founding principles. It will advance the cause of economic justice, and it will mean a more dynamic and inclusive workforce that captures the talents of more of our people.
Moreover, protecting the workplace rights of LGBT workers is a moral imperative. Equality under the law means equality under the law for everyone. It means standing up for our LGBT colleagues, ensuring that careers aren’t derailed or livelihoods ruined for reasons having nothing to do with skill or ability. It means, simply, opportunity for all − giving everyone the chance to go as far as their hard work will take them.
Tom Perez is the Secretary of the U.S. Department of Labor.