As other Southern states catch flak for passing laws that critics say restrict gay, lesbian and transgender rights, Louisiana’s Democratic governor is doing just the opposite.

Gov. John Bel Edwards on Wednesday signed an executive order extending protection to state employees and contractors against discrimination based on sexual orientation or gender identity. It also bans state agencies from discriminating in the services they provide.

“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 respectful and inclusive of everyone around us,” he said in what may have been an oblique reference to other Southern states such as Tennessee, Mississippi and North Carolina.

Louisiana lacks such protections for all workers. In the South, only Maryland and Delaware provide such statewide protections, according to the Human Rights Campaign, a gay rights advocacy organization. They are widely available in the Northeast and other parts of the country, shown in the darkest purple in the map below.


Edwards’s announcement comes as states such as Mississippi and North Carolina have come under fire for passing laws that gay rights supporters view as anti-gay. Such laws have evoked a powerful response from corporate America, with some of the nation’s largest corporations and most prominent individuals voicing their opposition.

Just this week, best-selling author John Grisham, Pulitzer Prize winner Donna Tartt and more than 90 other Mississippi authors lodged their opposition to a law passed last week that protects individuals, religious organizations and private associations from discrimination claims stemming from a refusal of service based on their belief in exclusively heterosexual marriage.

“Governor Phil Bryant and the Mississippi legislators who voted for this bill are not the sole voices of our state. There have always been people here battling injustice. That’s the version of Mississippi we believe in, and that’s the Mississippi we won’t stop fighting for,” they wrote in a statement.

Mississippi Gov. Phil Bryant (R) said in a statement that he signed the bill “to protect sincerely held religious beliefs and moral convictions.” Like other proponents of such laws, he said it was intended to protect religious rights.

Two large businesses — PayPal last week and Deutsche Bank on Tuesday — announced decisions to call off planned expansions in North Carolina due to a new law there that advocates have also described as anti-gay. That law requires transgender individuals use public bathrooms that match the gender on their birth certificates and bars local governments from extending civil rights protections to gay and transgender people.

On Tuesday, North Carolina Gov. Pay McCrory (R) signed an executive order that, like the one in Louisiana, afforded state employees protection from employment discrimination based on sexual orientation or gender identity. He also said he would pursue legislation that revives the right to sue for discrimination. He, however, left the highly controversial bathroom guidelines untouched.

Bryan Adams canceled a Mississippi concert over that state’s law, while Bruce Springsteen did the same in North Carolina.

Late last month, Georgia Gov. Nathan Deal (R) vetoed a controversial religious liberty bill that attracted opposition from major players in the sporting and movie industries.

In Louisiana, Edwards’s statement acknowledged the impact such laws have on state economies as they struggle to attract business and tourism, not only through his own words but also those of several members of the state business community.

“This action will help to solidify Louisiana’s current reputation as a welcoming place for business and talent,” Michael Hecht, president and CEO of Greater New Orleans, Inc., an economic development organization, said in the governor’s official announcement.

Edwards’s order rescinds one signed by his predecessor Bobby Jindal (R).

“It does nothing but divide our state and forced the business community, from Louisiana’s smallest businesses to large corporations, like IBM, to strongly oppose it,” Edwards said in reference to that measure. “This executive order threatens Louisiana’s business growth, and it goes against everything we stand for– unity, acceptance, and opportunity for all.”