Executive Order Protecting LGBT Workers Was Great – But It Shouldn’t Be NecessaryJuly 24, 2014
President Obama made history this week when he signed an executive order prohibiting discrimination against federal workers and government contract employees who are lesbian, gay, bisexual or transsexual. This executive order fills in gaps left by the one President Clinton signed in 1998, which prohibited discrimination against LGBT federal employees based on sexual orientation. The new order restates that prohibition and goes further, prohibiting discrimination on the basis of gender identity as well. It’s an important next step in the fight to grant equal employment rights to the LGBT community, and President Obama deserves praise for taking it.
I’m just sorry that the order was necessary.
Employers discriminate among their employees for lots of reasons. Some are sensible – top performers should be treated better than the folks who barely warm a desk chair every day – but many of them are downright dumb. Gender, skin tone, age, or ethnicity, for example, are utterly irrelevant to most jobs, so discriminating against employees because of those attributes is stupid and, quite rightly, illegal. If there’s anything dumber an employer can do than discriminating against employees based on sexual orientation or gender identity, however, it’s hard to say what that might be. Discrimination on those bases usually comes from ignorance and hostility, which makes it bad enough. But the simple reason it’s especially stupid is that sex is irrelevant at work.
Don’t let the sitcoms persuade you otherwise. Employees come to their place of business to work. Not to hook up, not to flirt, to work. If employers waste time wondering what their employees are doing with whom on their private time, it means they’ve lost track of their own responsibilities. If Taylor is doing a great job, Taylor’s personal life is none of the boss’ business. Better the boss should focus on keeping the trains running than on wondering who Taylor will be meeting for cocktails after hours.
Again, I applaud President Obama for taking this important step. Here’s hoping, though, that someday employers will recognize that the personal lives of their employees are not company property.
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