Hammered for weeks over his signing of House Bill 2, Gov. Pat McCrory on Tuesday attempted to undo the damage. He failed.
McCrory’s Executive Order 93 and his trumpeting of it had all the bluster of the Wizard of Oz’s fiery head and imposing voice. But North Carolinians should pay attention to the man behind the curtain. McCrory is frantically pulling levers and pushing buttons, but this is still a state government without a brain, or a heart or courage.
McCrory said that, with his order, he was “taking action to affirm and improve the state’s commitment to privacy and equality.” A close reading, though, reveals mostly empty language that leaves every element of House Bill 2 in place.
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Businesses can still discriminate against people because of their sexual orientation and gender identity. Cities are still banned from passing non-discrimination ordinances governing their communities. Employees who are fired because of their race or age or other protected classes still can’t file a state claim. And transgender people still must use the bathroom of the opposite gender from how they look and what they consider themselves to be.
There are only two provisions that even tiptoe toward important policy change. McCrory encourages the legislature to reinstate employees’ ability to file a state claim for employment discrimination. But that’s up to legislators, and in a statement reacting to the order, Senate leader Phil Berger gave no indication of whether he supports such a change.
McCrory does, importantly, add sexual orientation and gender identity to the list of protected classes for state employees. His office says that applies to all state employees except teachers and the General Assembly. Some scholars, though, believe it would apply only to employees over whom the governor has authority, meaning his cabinet agencies.
Much of the rest of McCrory’s order simply restates what House Bill 2 already says.
The bottom line: LGBT individuals in Charlotte still don’t have the protections against discrimination that HB 2 took away. In the rest of the state, they have no more protection against discrimination today than they did before McCrory’s order, unless they work in state government. And transgender people are still specifically singled out for discriminatory treatment.
Despite that, some folks who should know better cheered. The Charlotte Chamber’s Executive Committee, hopeful that business recruitment will get back on track, said “We applaud the governor’s actions today which demonstrate that North Carolina is an open and welcoming state.”
No, the governor’s actions don’t demonstrate that. They demonstrate the opposite – that North Carolina is not a welcoming state – and that McCrory is flailing in the heat of an election year. The legislature dumped a bad bill on McCrory’s desk. He signed it and is now looking for a way out. State employee protections are worth something, but bold leadership requires more.
The Wizard spoke Tuesday but it was all smoke. Too bad we can’t just click our heels and go back home to the North Carolina we used to know.