After all the hype, it has finally been confirmed that on Monday, President Obama will sign an executive order banning workplace discrimination against LGBT employees of federal contractors and the federal government.
A refresher, in case you missed all this the first time around:
The executive order has two components: It prohibits federal contractors from discriminating against employees based on sexual orientation or gender identity — a move that affects 24,000 companies employing roughly 28 million workers, or about one-fifth of the nation’s workforce — and it explicitly bans discrimination against federal employees based on their gender identity. …
To the relief of the LGBT community, there is no sweeping religious exemption in the executive order. Obama is simply adding the categories of sexual orientation and gender identity to an existing executive order that protects employees of federal contractors from discrimination based on race, color, religion, sex or national origin. President George W. Bush amended that executive order in 2002 to allow religiously affiliated federal contractors to prioritize hiring employees of their particular religion, however, and Obama is keeping that language intact.
Systemic anti-LGBT employment discrimination is one of the next major hurdles we need to jump. This won’t establish universal workplace equality, but it’s quite a start.
(I work the floor at an independently-owned menswear store. The owner, my boss, spends a lot of time at the shop, and tries to keep prices as low as possible to help our city’s large homeless population get good job interview clothes. A clearly homeless man is wandering around the store. The other patrons are giving him looks.)
Customer:“Excuse me, sir?”
Customer:“I think you may want to call security. That… bum over there, he keeps feeling the suits and muttering to himself. I’m just sure he’s planning to steal one.”
Me:“Well, ma’am, I think that’s quite unlikely.”
Customer:“Oh, come on, you know how they are! I mean, I’d keep an eye on him even if he wasn’t homeless!”
(The homeless man in question happens to be Hispanic.)
Me:“We don’t discriminate here, ma’am.”
Customer:“Well, I’m sure the owner would want to hear about this!”
(I give in and call him over. The customer explains her concerns. As a black man, my boss isn’t happy with her racism, but agrees to talk to the homeless man.)
Owner:“Excuse me, sir, are you finding what you need?”
Homeless Man:“Well, not really. I’m hoping for something versatile in a dark or navy wool, but most of the options in my size are cut American style instead of European, which fits me a little better. Not to mention they’re all pinstriped, which I really don’t have the build for, you know?”
Owner:“I… yes, I understand. I think we may have some options over here, if you’ll follow me. How did you know all that?”
Homeless Man:“Back before I lost my job, I used to be really into this stuff. I’m not looking for anything fancy, just something I can use to look good for a job interview later today.”
(My boss helps him find something he likes, and comes to the counter with him. The suit is priced at $87.)
Homeless Man:*digging in his pockets* “Hang on, I think I’ve got enough.”
Owner:*to me* “Take my card. I’m buying it for him.” *to the homeless man* “Here. The suit’s yours, on one condition. After your interview today, you come back and apply for a job here too. Got it?”
Homeless Man:“I… oh my God, thank you. Thank you so much.”
(Two years later, that formerly-homeless man is my manager, and has a little girl with his new wife—the owner’s sister.)