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It’s not all that far from North Carolina in terms of mileage—but when it comes to LGBT rights, Pennsylvania is a world apart from the Tar Heel state.
On Thursday, Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Wolf signed two executive orders expanding anti-discrimination protections for LGBT government employees and contractors. Though Pennsylvania had already signed similar nondiscrimination protections into law in 2003, the orders expanded the coverage to contractors and codified equal employment opportunity.
But more importantly, it was a loud statement directed at governors of states like North Carolina and Mississippi, which both recently passed discriminatory laws blocking equality for LGBT residents.
“What happened in North Carolina, and what is going on in other states, should be a call to pass nondiscrimination legislation in Pennsylvania now,” read a statement issued Tuesday by Wolf’s office regarding his plans to sign the orders. “The governor wants to make clear that Pennsylvania is inclusive, welcoming, and open for business for everyone.”
At a press conference on Thursday, Wolf intensified his criticism of North Carolina’s anti-LGBT law. He also clarified two main motivations for signing the executive orders: to urge the passage of a stalled LGBT equality bill called the PA Fairness Act, and to ensure business interests that Pennsylvania is a state friendly to LGBT employees.
“I am troubled by the General Assembly’s inaction on passing nondiscrimination legislation,” said Wolf at Thursday’s press conference in Harrisburg. “The point is that fairness matters. None of us can lead full lives if all of us don’t. A society that is unfair to some is unfair to all.”
The latter motivation was explicitly in reference to PayPal’s decision to pull out of a planned North Carolina expansion, which the company said was due to protest over that state’s anti-LGBT law.
“Like Pay Pal, businesses want to invest in places that show they value all people who are willing to work hard, take risks, raise a family, or build a business,” Wolf said. “We need a level playing field in Pennsylvania because economies don’t thrive on a playing field that isn’t level.”
On Friday morning, the Philadelphia chapter of the Anti-Defamation League praised Wolf’s action in a statement that also urged the passage of the PA Fairness Act.
“While we take this moment to thank the governor and recognize progress, we cannot forget that LGBT Pennsylvanians can still legally lose their jobs, be evicted from their homes, and denied services,” said Nancy K. Baron-Baer, ADL regional director, in the statement. “It is imperative that the Legislature pass the PA Fairness Act, to permanently and completely ban anti-LGBT discrimination in Pennsylvania.”
The governor’s office created a webpage that explains the reach of the two executive orders while also shaming the state legislature for failure to pass the PA Fairness Act. The bill would prevent state residents from being fired or evicted just because they are LGBT, by adding sexual orientation and gender identity to the state’s existing nondiscrimination law.
Gov. Wolf’s explainer webpage is titled #WeAreNotThis, in reference to the viral hashtag used by North Carolina residents in protest of the state’s discriminatory law.
Mary Emily O'Hara is an LGBTQ reporter. Her work has appeared in Rolling Stone, NBC Out, Daily Dot, Broadly, Vice, the Daily Beast, the Advocate, Huffington Post, DNAinfo, Al Jazeera, and Portland's Pulitzer Prize-winning newsweekly Willamette Week, among other outlets.