The last full week in July was an incredible week for transpeople in America

Posted by Barbra Casbar Siperstein on Tuesday, July 29, 2014

On Monday July 21, 2014 President Obama signed an executive order doing 2 things.  First, it added “gender identity” an existing executive order protecting gay and lesbian federal workers from discrimination thus protecting transgender federal workers. (It institutionalized and strengthened an existing Federal policy which started under the Obama Administration). Secondly, and more importantly, it prohibits anti-LGBT discrimination for employers that work with the federal government as contractors or subcontractors.  It is estimated that the executive order extending gender identity and sexual orientation employment protections extends to 28 million workers across the country. Although most contractors already have LGBT non discrimination employment policies, some very large and medium size companies declaratively do not.  I will list Exxon Mobil and Leggett and Platt as representative examples.

Specifically, the order amends the existing federal contractor nondiscrimination executive order, Executive Order 11246, to include sexual orientation or gender identity. It also amends the existing federal workforce nondiscrimination order, Executive Order 11478, to include gender identity. President Clinton had amended that order in 1998 to include sexual orientation.

There seemed to be a compromise that no additional religious exemptions for the sexual orientation or gender identity provisions beyond those already contained in the existing executive orders, a request made by some religiously affiliated leaders. At the same time, however, the order does not take action requested by some civil rights groups to rescind an executive order issued by President George W. Bush. The Bush order provides an exemption to Executive Order 11246 for any “religious corporation, association, educational institution, or society” that allows such contractors to hire people of “a particular religion.”

The bottom line is that millions of LGBT Americans now have explicit workplace protections that can ensure that they and their families aren't cut out of a job because of who they are and who they love. Unfortunately, with the gridlock in Congress and a group of Republicans who represent a minority in the House controlling Speaker Boehner, a federal Employment Non Discrimination Act (ENDA) might have added protections to over 100 million workers was declared dead.  With ENDA and its now controversial religious exemption intact presumed dead, with it appears that this was now the final incentive for the President to take his action.

The executive order aims to fill gaps between Title VII sex discrimination protections and a handful of state laws that ban anti-LGBT discrimination. Today, only 18 states, Puerto Rico and the District of Columbia have gender identity employment non-discrimination laws on the books.

It was a personal honor for me to be present at the historic signing in the White House and to be among over 200 LGBT activists, allies, organizations heads, individuals, federal employees as well as local, state and Federal elected officials. It may be worth noting that two US Senators were present and acknowledged by the President, Senators Baldwin and Merkley (the latter being the Prime sponsor of ENDA that passed the Senate earlier this year 64-32), but I did not notice any members of the House of Representatives. New Jersey unfortunately was not particularly well represented, but I did meet Don Guardian the new out gay Republican Mayor of Atlantic City.

On Wednesday July 23 in New Jersey, Garden State Equality (GSE) announced that Andrea “Andy” Bowen a   transgender activist with a proven record of nationally notable policy victories, had been named their new Executive Director of Garden State Equality (GSE). Andy is one the first openly transgender Executive Directors of a statewide organization for LGBT civil rights.

Andy came to GSE with a brief yet intense resume and represents a new and young generation of trans leaders with a positive and open attitude. She came from DC, where as a grassroots leader she played an integral role in engineering key victories for transgender justice.

Personally, for my part, as a former Vice Chair of the organization, I congratulate GSE for ‘walking the walk’ and being the model of a truly inclusive statewide LGBT organization.”

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