Amid intensifying outcry over recently enacted anti-LGBT laws in Mississippi and North Carolina, as well as similar legislation advancing in Tennessee and Missouri, one southern state appears to be running in the opposite direction.
Louisiana Gov. John Bel Edwards, a Democrat, signed an executive order on Tuesday prohibiting discrimination against state employees and employees of state contractors on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity, among other characteristics. The action also bans discrimination in services provided by state agencies, while recognizing an exemption for churches and religious organizations that contract with the state on education, health care and adoption issues.
In a statement, Edwards championed Louisiana’s diversity and said he signed the executive order in the spirit of “unity and fairness of all of our citizens.”
“We respect our fellow citizens for their beliefs, but we do not discriminate based on our disagreements,” said Edwards. “I believe in giving every Louisianan the opportunity to be successful and to thrive in our state. Our goal is to promote the opportunities we have right here in Louisiana. While this executive order respects the religious beliefs of our people, it also signals to the rest of the country that discrimination is not a Louisiana value, but rather, that Louisiana is a state that is respectful and inclusive of everyone around us.”
In addition to extending nondiscrimination protections to LGBT state employees, Edwards’ executive order also rescinds a different one signed by his predecessor – former Republican presidential candidate and Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal – that prevented the state from taking action against individuals and businesses with “deeply held” religious objections to same-sex marriage. That order, Edwards said, “was meant to serve a narrow political agenda.”
“It does nothing but divide our state and forced the business community, from Louisiana’s smallest businesses to large corporations, like IBM, to strongly oppose it,” Edwards said of the previous administration’s executive order. “It goes against everything we stand for – unity, acceptance, and opportunity for all.”
Tuesday’s executive action marks a stark departure for Louisiana from a pack of southern states that have this year come under fire for advancing legislation seen as anti-LGBT. North Carolina became the most prominent target last month, when its Republican-controlled legislature hastily passed House Bill 2 – a measure negating all local nondiscrimination protections for LGBT residents and requiring transgender people to use government building bathrooms that correspond with the sex on their birth certificates, not their gender identities. The Tar Heel State’s Republican Gov. Pat McCrory signed his own executive order on Monday that attempted to walk back certain parts of the controversial law. But even though that order expanded government equal employment policies to include sexual orientation and gender identity, LGBT rights groups were outraged that it left in place HB2’s discriminatory bathroom regulations.
“The intention of the [North Carolina] governor and his administration is to implement policies prohibiting discrimination the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity,” said Sarah Warbelow, legal director at the Human Rights Campaign, on a press call Monday. “But it does not address the fact that while someone who is transgender cannot be passed over for a promotion, that person is still going to experience discrimination in the restroom every day that they come to work.”