North Carolina Governor Roy Cooper signed an executive order aimed at protecting the state’s LGBT residents from discrimination.
In part a response to earlier controversy, the action restricts the state government and government-affiliated businesses from discriminating against a variety of groups.
The order specifically makes it illegal to discriminate against persons on basis of their race, color, ethnicity, sex, National Guard or veteran status, sexual orientation, or gender identity.
While many of the categories highlighted in the executive order were already protected classes under federal law, some conservative states have sought to protect the ability of employers to discriminate against LGBT Americans and workers.
North Carolina attracted a great deal of controversy earlier in 2017, when the state government pushed a bill which would block transgender persons from using bathrooms corresponding to their gender identity. Advocates of the legislation said it was meant to protect women and children from pedophiles and other sex predators.
Governor Cooper, in collaboration with the N.C. House, reached a compromise repealing the law at the end of March.
The recent executive order – which was signed last week – may act as a catalyst to prompt better protections in employment outside of the state government.
Under Cooper’s order, neither the government or businesses which contract with the government can lawfully discriminate against any of the aforementioned protected classes, which includes LGBT individuals.
“By requiring companies that contract with the state to have non-discrimination policies, the state can promote protections for North Carolinians outside of the state government,” explained Gov. Cooper.
Cooper tied his executive order to 2017’s bathroom ordeal, saying the action would allow transgender persons to use restrooms corresponding to their gender identity rather than biological sex. He said he hoped the move would make North Carolina “more welcoming.”
Conservative Christian groups were quick to hit back, lambasting the move as a “massive power grab” with “sweeping changes.”
The N.C. Values Coalition – which supported North Carolina H.B. 2, or the “Bathroom Bill” – said Cooper’s order would allow “men and boys into girls’ and women’s showers and bathrooms, but also forces private businesses to adopt sweeping LGBT special rights.”
However, the Charlotte Observer notes that Cooper’s order isn’t dissimilar to one signed by his predecessor, Republican Pat McCrory.
Weeks after signing HB2, McCrory put forward an executive order barring the state from discriminating against employees on a number of grounds – including sexual orientation and gender identity. Protections were extended to workers under the government’s supervision, including workers for the N.C. Department of Transportation.
Nevertheless, Republicans in the state government were quick to condemn Cooper’s order as an ill-considered publicity stunt.
“Roy Cooper made a deal with the business community and the legislature to repeal HB2 and put divisive social issues that North Carolinians are sick of hearing about behind us, and his attempt to resurrect these issues shows he acted in bad faith and lied about wanting to end the focus on HB2,” said legislative leaders Phil Berger and House Speaker Tim Moore.
“We trust the court will reject the governor’s latest stunt, which is inconsistent with the deal he negotiated to repeal HB2,” they said.