The long-anticipated move comes in lieu of the passage of the broader Employment Nondiscrimination Act, which would ban discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity in companies nationwide.
The order, instead, would prohibit companies that have federal contracts from discriminating against employees based on sexual orientation or gender identity. Federal contractors are currently banned from discriminating on the basis of such factors as race, religion and sex.
The order is expected to affect as many as one million LGBT workers.
National Center for Transgender Equality executive director Mara Keisling hailed the order as a "very important piece of the comprehensive anti-discrimination protections our community has been working for and winning. Title VII sex discrimination protections have been helpful, passing state and local laws have been helpful, passing the Employment Nondiscrimination Act will be helpful, and, very soon, this executive order will be helpful. This has been a remarkable month of win after win, both culturally and politically, for transgender people."
Center for American Progress executive vice president for external affairs Winnie Stachelberg called the announcement "welcome news for the far too many LGBT Americans currently living in fear of losing their jobs simply because of who they are or whom they love. The administration’s careful consideration of this issue and its strong commitment to widening the circle of opportunity means that the goal of true workplace fairness for all Americans is closer than ever before.”
American Civil Liberties Union executive director Anthony D. Romero praised Obama's LGBT leadership.
"President Obama’s commitment to LGBT equality will be one of his lasting legacies," Romero said. "This president has done more for the struggle for LGBT equality than all previous presidents combined. For more than 70 years, presidents, both Democratic and Republican, have used executive orders to eradicate taxpayer-funded discrimination in the workplace. Issuing this executive order will build upon a tradition that dates back to President Roosevelt’s 1941 order conditioning defense contracts on an agreement not to discriminate based on race, creed, color, or national origin. Barring discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity with taxpayer funds by all federal contractors will begin to undo one of the last vestiges of legally sanctioned discrimination."