Editor's note: This contribution by the late journalist I.F. Stone first appeared in our January 1975 magazine.
By Kathi Wolfe
President Obama did a great thing on July 21. He signed an executive order prohibiting federal contractors from engaging in employment discrimination based on sexual orientation or gender identity. The order also prohibited the federal government from discriminating against transgender civil service employees.
As a lesbian, I applaud this historic move, and you, as a person who believes in fairness, should too.
You may not realize that in many states there is no legal recourse for lesbians, gays, bisexuals or transgender people who encounter employment discrimination.
There is no federal law that prevents an employer from not hiring or firing you, no matter how qualified you may be for the job, if you're not a heterosexual.
In 29 states, no laws prohibit job discrimination based on sexual orientation, and in 32 states, no laws ban employment discrimination based on gender identity.
For decades, Congress has failed to pass the Employment Non-Discrimination Act, which would prevent job discrimination against lesbians, gays, bisexuals and transgender people in both the federal and private sector. The Senate has passed it, but the House refuses to, so discrimination is still legal in the United States.
The order the president signed goes a long way toward correcting this injustice. Obama's executive order will protect 14 million lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender Americans against discrimination based on their sexual orientation or gender identity.
A majority of the American public supports this move. "A recent national survey of 1,200 registered voters found that 63 percent of those surveyed favor a federal law that protects LGBT people from employment discrimination," the White House said in a fact sheet. "When asked specifically about LGBT nondiscrimination in federal contracting, another poll found that 73 percent of those surveyed favor such policies."
Large companies support it, as well. The White House reported that "91 percent of Fortune 500 companies already prohibit discrimination based on sexual orientation, and 61 percent already prohibit discrimination based on gender identity."
Small companies support employment equality, as well.
"According to research conducted by Small Business Majority, six in ten small business owners believe that employment nondiscrimination laws improve their bottom line by helping employers attract the best and brightest employees," the White House said.
We who are LGBT don't want special rights in the workplace. We only want to be hired and fired based on our ability to do the work.
There's still much work to be done before employment discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity is ended in this country. But, as Obama said, his executive order puts us on "the right side of history."
That's something to celebrate.
Kathi Wolfe is a writer and poet. Her most recent poetry collection, "The Green Light," was published by Finishing Line Press. She can be reached at email@example.com.