By Mike Lillis - 04/03/12 10:32 PM EDT
Dozens of House Democrats are urging President Obama to fight harder to end discrimination against gays in the workplace.
More than 70 Democrats sent a letter to Obama Tuesday asking the president to adopt an executive order explicitly prohibiting federal contractors from discriminating against employees based on their sexual orientation or gender identity.
An executive order, they said, is vital to ensure that gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) workers "receive the same protections and opportunities as all other Americans."
"In 1965, President Johnson established Executive Order 11246 prohibiting federal contractors from discriminating against employees based on race, color, religion, sex, or national origin," the lawmakers wrote.
"The opportunity to expand protections against workplace discrimination to members of the LGBT community is a critical step that you can take today, especially when data and research tell us that 43 percent of LGB people and 90 percent of transgender people have experienced workplace discrimination."
Spearheaded by Rep. Frank Pallone Jr. (D-N.J.), the letter was endorsed by 71 other Democrats, including Reps. John Lewis (Ga.), George Miller (Calif.), Diana DeGette (Colo.), Chris Van Hollen (Md.), Henry Waxman (Calif.) and Louise Slaughter (D-N.Y.).
Congress's four openly gay members — Democratic Reps. Barney Frank (Mass.), Jared Polis (Colo.), Tammy Baldwin (Wis.) and David Cicilline (R.I.) — also signed the letter.
The Democrats are pushing legislation — the Employment Non-Discrimination Act (ENDA) — that would adopt workplace protections for LGBT workers. But with Republicans controlling the House, the bill has little chance this year, leading the Democrats to urge adoption of an executive order instead.
The lawmakers note that many leading corporations have already installed anti-discrimination policies protecting LGBT workers — a move they say "helps to attract the best talent, reduce employee turnover, and overall is a plus to their bottom lines."
The absence of similar requirements for federal contractors, the Democrats warned, risks inefficiencies and wasted taxpayer dollars.