New Governors Usher In LGBTQ Protections

Kansas’ new Democratic governor, Laura Kelly, has restored protections for LGBTQ state employees pulled back by her Republican predecessor Sam Brownback, and has extended those rights to employees of contractors doing business with the state.
TWITTER.COM/ LAURA KELLY

Several new governors around the country have taken immediate action to bolster nondiscrimination protections on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity.

Governors Gretchen Whitmer of Michigan and Tony Evers of Wisconsin, both Democrats replacing Republican predecessors, got the ball rolling on the LGBTQ-focused executive orders earlier in the month before Governors Mike DeWine of Ohio, a Republican, and Democrat Laura Kelly of Kansas followed suit last week.

In New York, Governor Andrew Cuomo had taken executive action banning discrimination against transgender people in late 2015, but he is on the verge of signing a codified version of that policy into law with Gender Non-Discrimination Act (GENDA), which swiftly passed both houses of the State Legislature earlier this week. Former Governor George Pataki, a Republican, signed the Sexual Orientation Non-Discrimination Act (SONDA) into law in early 2003.

Kelly’s order restores protection for LGBTQ employees at state agencies in Kansas and widens it to cover contractors doing business with the state. The order also requires state agencies to create affirmative action plans and would begin a program to increase awareness of the legal protections available for people with disabilities.

Former Governor Sam Brownback, a Republican, had wiped out the protections in 2015. Democratic state legislators are vowing to propose a nondiscrimination bill covering all LGBTQ Kansans, though both houses of the Legislature have conservative Republican majorities. Kelly has said she would sign such a measure if it were passed, according to Kansas.com.

Kelly is also searching for ways to work around a law signed by former Republican Governor Jeff Colyer — who served just one year past following Brownback’s resignation — giving adoption agencies the ability to refuse to place children with LGBTQ parents, according to the Huffington Post.

The executive orders in Michigan and Wisconsin cover state employees and ban contractors doing business with the state from discriminating against LGBTQ employees. Former Michigan Governor Rick Snyder, a Republican, had issued a similar executive order, but it exempted churches and religious organizations. The new order removes the religious exemption.

Missouri’s Republican Governor Mike Parson, who took office in June, has signaled a willingness to consider extending nondiscrimination protections to LGBTQ folks, but has expressed some reservations about the impact the order would have on the rights of Christians. Notably, as legislator, he voted five years ago in favor of a nondiscrimination measure covering gender identity nondiscrimination.

In Florida, the new Republican governor, Ron DeSantis, signed a nondiscrimination-related executive order without including protections on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity. His executive order bans discrimination in state employment only on the basis of age, sex, race, color, religion, national origin, marital status, and disability.

In Ohio, DeWine’s order came just weeks after outgoing Governor John Kasich, also a Republican, expanded his previous executive order to include protections for state workers on the basis of gender identity. DeWine’s order renews Kasich’s executive action.

The progress in Ohio and Kansas drew praise from advocacy groups. Shawn Copeland, who manages the Human Rights Campaign’s efforts in Ohio, thanked DeWine and expressed hope that the State Legislature would work to approve a bill banning private sector discrimination as well.

“By continuing these crucial non-discrimination protections for LGBTQ state employees, Governor DeWine did the right thing, and we hope his administration will push for the fair treatment of all LGBTQ Ohioans over the next four years,” Copeland said.

Equality Ohio’s executive director, Alana Jochum, said that Ohio “is still playing catch-up” but that noted that “Governor DeWine made a strong statement on his first day that he will be a Governor for all Ohioans.”

Lambda Legal, which works to achieve full recognition of LGBTQ civil rights, did not immediately respond to requests for comment on the latest executive orders in Kansas and Ohio.

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