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January 15, 2010

 

U.S. adds gender identity to job rules

Washington, D.C.--The Obama administration, in addition to appointing a transgender woman to a Department of Commerce position this month, also extended equal employment rules for government employees to cover gender identity.

While federal law prohibits federal employment decisions based on anything other than merit, and discrimination based on sex is illegal, this is the first piece of federal policy explicitly banning discrimination based on gender identity.

The policy protects current and prospective employees of the federal government, but does not cover employees of private companies, or state or local governments. Currently, under 40% of the population lives in states, counties or cities that offer job discrimination protection based on gender identity.

“This new policy is a very significant development,” American Civil Liberties Union senior legislative counsel Christopher Anders said. “The inclusion of gender identity in federal EEO [equal employment opportunity] policies is a very clear statement that the federal government will not discriminate based on gender identity. The Obama administration is demonstrating a strong commitment to an effective workforce by making clear that the federal government will not discriminate against transgender employees.”

The current version of the Employment Non-Discrimination Act in Congress, which would extend workplace discrimination protection on a national basis, covers both sexual orientation and gender identity.

However, with mid-term congressional elections this year, House speaker Nancy Pelosi has said that she will not have her vulnerable members tackle “controversial” issues unless the Senate does so first. Critics believe that means that ENDA is unlikely to move in the House of Representatives unless the Senate passes it first.

“Employment discrimination can have a devastating effect on transgender Americans and the families they support,” Anders said. “With its new policy, the federal government is setting a good example for all employers.”

“Although many state governments and businesses already provide workplace protections for transgender employees, explicit protection of transgender federal employees will likely be a catalyst for many more states and businesses to apply the federal policy,” he concluded.

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