HARRISBURG, Pa. (WHTM) – Governor Tom Wolf has signed executive orders to end discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity in state government.
The two executive orders expand non-discrimination protections for state employees and employees of contractors that do business with the state.
“This is the right thing for us to do, just as it was the right thing for William Penn to do when he proclaimed that Pennsylvania was a place for everyone regardless of their religion,” he said.
Wolf said the orders are a first step toward legislation to ban such discrimination in employment, housing and public services. He urged the Legislature to pass a non-discrimination bill that makes clear Pennsylvania is a welcoming place for everyone.
“With no sign that Republican leaders plan to free this bill that has broad, bipartisan support, I am taking action to protect those that I can and send a signal to the country that Pennsylvania is open for business no matter who you are or whom you love,” he said.
Many in the LGBT community feel the executive orders were overdue.
“I am someone who believes in equality across the board, but as a member of the LGBT community, I may have shed a little tear thinking about how this is a long time coming and we have got more to do,” Harrisburg City Councilman Ben Allatt said.
Rep. Brian Sims, Pennsylvania’s first openly gay elected state legislator, witnessed the signings.
“I have mixed feelings on the orders being signed,” he said. “We have known that the governor was a supporter of LGBT rights, but I am also frustrated that something like this shouldn’t be an executive order and we should have passed the Pennsylvania Fairness Act years ago.”
The move comes amid a backlash over what Wolf has called “discriminatory” bills; one signed by North Carolina’s governor that curbs LGBT protections and another signed by Mississippi’s governor that allows public and private businesses to refuse service to gay couples based on the employers’ religious beliefs.
“We need to make statement here in Pennsylvania that we are welcoming, we are open for business for everybody. This is the best I could do,” Wolf said.
“However it happens is the important thing, and I am just glad we have the executive order in place to help people understand it is very important,” said Lynette Chappell-Williams, chief diversity officer at Penn State Hershey Medical Center.
The executive orders take effect immediately.