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Pennsylvania Gov. to Sign Executive Order Protecting LGBT Employees

Pennsylvania Gov. to Sign Executive Order Protecting LGBT Employees


"We want to be known as a welcoming state," Gov. Tom Wolf said.

Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Wolf announced plans Wednesday to sign an executive order to protect LGBT state employees in response to North Carolina's antigay law.

In an interview with Pittsburgh's WESA radio station, Wolf criticized the recent passage of House Bill 2, calling it "discriminatory." HB 2 struck down local nondiscrimination ordinances across North Carolina. In signing the bill into law, Gov. Pat McCrory not only made it legal to fire someone for their sexual orientation or gender identity, but also forced trans people to use the restrooms in public buildings that correspond with the sex they were assigned at birth.

"This is not something we want in [Pennsylvania] -- we want to be known as a welcoming state," Wolf told WESA. "We want to be known as a place that's open for everybody."

In a press release issued the same day, the governor's office elaborated on its decision to sign the executive order. "This is an important step in ensuring equality, but Pennsylvania must do more and the governor will also call on the legislature to finally pass non-discrimination legislation," the statement reads.

Wolf is referring to a "religious liberty" law recently passed in Mississippi, one that allows businesses to discriminate against customers and employees based on their "sincerely held religious beliefs."

In his statement to the press, Wolf explained that Pennsylvania would not be following in the footsteps of states like North Carolina. "What happened in North Carolina, and what is going on in other states, should be a call to pass non-discrimination legislation in Pennsylvania now," said the governor's note.

As The Advocate previously reported, House Bill 1523 makes it legal to terminate LGBT employees, refuse to sell a gay couple a home, or even fire female employees for wearing pants in the workplace. Under HB 1523, caterers can decline to provide services for a same-sex wedding or deny that same couple a marriage license.

In an interview with BuzzFeed, Ben Needham, director of Human Rights Campaign's Project One America, said that HB 1523 "is probably the worst religious freedom bill to date."

Numerous companies have responded to the passage of anti-LGBT legislation in North Carolina and Mississippi by threatening to boycott these states. Thus far, 120 businesses, including Apple, Microsoft, and Dow Chemical have spoken out against discrimination in the Tar Heel State. This week, PayPal became the first to pull out of the state, announcing on Monday that it would be nixing a planned $3.6 million expansion to Charlotte.

According to Philadelphia TV station KYW, Wolf specifically cited the PayPal decision as a motivating force behind the executive order, which will primarily pertain to government employees and contractors. As the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette notes, Pennsylvania is the only state in the Northeast that doesn't guarantee protections for gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender workers.

Local LGBT advocates applauded the decision. "It's a sign of a true leader," Carla Christopher, the codirector of York Progressives, told the York Dispatch. "A leader is someone who doesn't waste his time. If he can't go over the mountain, he finds a way around it."

The Dispatch notes that Wolf had hoped to pass an LGBT nondiscrimination bill through the state legislature, but his efforts had proven unsuccessful.

Others, however, argued that further action will be necessary to ensure equality for LGBT people in Pennsylvania. "Though these are important steps in banning some discrimination in the workplace, LGBT Pennsylvanians still face discrimination in private industry, in housing and business services," Ted Martin, the executive director for Equality PA, told theScranton Times-Tribune.

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