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White House Punts On Executive Order Banning Contractors From LGBT Discrimination

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WASHINGTON -- The Obama administration on Wednesday decided not to move forward with an executive order prohibiting workplace discrimination among federal contractors that is a top priority for the LGBT community.

"While it is not our usual practice to discuss Executive Orders that may or may not be under consideration, we do not expect that an Executive Order on LGBT non-discrimination for federal contractors will be issued at this time," a senior administration official told The Huffington Post. "We support legislation that has been introduced and we will continue to work with congressional sponsors to build support for it."

The decision is a blow to LGBT activists who had huddled with administration officials at the White House earlier in the day to discuss the status of the executive order. That meeting featured White House senior adviser Valerie Jarrett along with officials from the Human Rights Campaign, Center for American Progress, National Gay and Lesbian Task Force and other groups.

There is currently no federal law that bars public and private employers from discriminating against workers on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity, although pushing for passage of the Employment Non-Discrimination Act (ENDA) -- which the administration supports -- remains a top goal of the LGBT community. But with a reluctant Congress, many activists believed that their best hope of securing protections would be through an executive order from the president. Such an executive order has been endorsed by 72 members of Congress.

“The President is dedicated to securing equal rights for LGBT Americans and that is why he has long supported an inclusive Employment Non-Discrimination Act (ENDA), which would prohibit employers across the country from discriminating on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity," White House spokesman Shin Inouye told The Huffington Post. "The President is committed to lasting and comprehensive change and therefore our goal is passage of ENDA, which is a legislative solution to LGBT employment discrimination -- just as the President pressed for legislative repeal of DADT.”

The final decision is a setback from the LGBT community, which saw the executive order as one of the few major remaining priorities left on the legislative docket. And it raises the stakes for the next battle, which is likely to center around the inclusion of marriage-equality language in the Democratic Party platform. Minutes after the White House had informed advocates of the president's decision, Fred Sainz, a spokesman for the Human Rights Campaign, told The Huffington Post that they were "extremely disappointed" and "will continue to advocate for an executive order."

"The unfortunate truth is that hard-working Americans can be fired simply for being gay or transgender. Given the number of employees that would be covered by this executive order, it represents a critical step forward," Sainz said.

Companies that contract with the federal government employ 22 percent of the entire U.S. workforce. In addition, 42 percent of gay individuals and 90 percent of transgender individuals say they have experienced some form of employment discrimination.

"We are deeply committed to working hand-in-hand with the LGBT community to enlist support from key stakeholders and other decision-makers," the senior administration official said, "and to continue to engage with and educate the business community and the public more broadly about the importance of employment nondiscrimination and the importance of passing ENDA."

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