BATON ROUGE, La. (AP) — Gov. John Bel Edwards issued an executive order Wednesday banning discrimination in state government based on sexual orientation and gender identity. The Democratic governor also rescinded his Republican predecessor’s order offering protections to people who oppose same-sex marriage.
Edwards’ LGBT protection order prohibits state agencies, boards and contractors from harassment or discrimination based on race, religion, sexual orientation, gender identity, national origin, political affiliation, disability or age. State contracts will be required to include a similar anti-discrimination provision.
“We are fortunate enough to live in a state that is rich with diversity, and we are built on a foundation of unity and fairness for all of our citizens,” the governor said in a statement. “We respect our fellow citizens for their beliefs, but we do not discriminate based on our disagreements.”
Edwards’ order comes as states across the country, particularly in the South, wrestle with “religious freedom” legislation and laws that critics have called discriminatory against the LGBT community. Supporters say they’re trying to protect religious beliefs.
In Louisiana, the order includes an exemption for state contractors that are religious organizations. The provision affecting contractors takes effect July 1. The rest of the order starts immediately.
“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 respective and inclusive of everyone around us,” Edwards said.
Louisiana doesn’t have a state law protecting the state’s LGBT residents from discrimination, and efforts to enact such a law have failed. Shreveport and New Orleans have passed their own anti-discrimination ordinances.
Edwards’ edict is similar to orders enacted by two former Louisiana Democratic governors — but he added language protecting against discrimination based on “gender identity,” a provision that protects transgender people.
Matthew Patterson, managing director of LGBT rights organization Equality Louisiana, said the executive order is “the first time transgender people have ever had any degree of statewide legal protections in Louisiana.”
The governor’s office released statements of support from leaders of chambers of commerce in New Orleans and Shreveport.
“This action will help to solidify Louisiana’s current reputation as a welcoming place for business and talent,” said Michael Hecht, president and CEO of Greater New Orleans Inc.