Democratic lawmakers in the state House and Senate filed four bills Tuesday that would provide protections and equality for LGBTQ North Carolinians.
“It’s no secret that North Carolina has a difficult history when it comes to LBTQ+ rights,” said Rep. Vernetta Alston (D-Durham), at a virtual press conference Tuesday. “But we’re here to change that.”
The bills filed Tuesday are:
House Bill 450 / Senate Bill 396 – “The Equality for All Act” — Legislation that would extend LGBTQ non-discrimination protections statewide. Seven communities across the state have already passed such protections since a statewide ban on such local protections expired in December.
House Bill 451 – A full repeal of HB2, the controversial law that excludes lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people from statewide nondiscrimination protections and generated international headlines and boycotts of the state.
House Bill 449 – A bill to prohibit so-called “gay/trans panic” defenses in “heat of passion” assaults and murders of LGBTQ people.
House Bill 452/ Senate Bill 392 – “The Mental Health Protection Act” – A bill to prohibit so-called “conversion therapy,” a scientifically discredited practice aimed at “curing” LGBTQ people. The practice has been linked to suicides among LGBTQ youth and is banned for minors in 20 states and Washington D.C. In 2019 Gov. Roy Cooper banned the use of taxpayer dollars to pay for the practice.
Alston said HB450 “affirms what we already know — that no one should live in fear of discrimination and that everyone in North Carolina deserves basic human rights.”
“No one should worry that they can’t buy a home because of who they love or be denied a haircut or a hotel room because of their gender identity,” Alston said. “And I want to be able to go to a restaurant and know that my right to be there with my family is protected by the state I call home.”
Kendra Johnson, executive director of LGBTQ advocacy group Equality NC, called passage of the bills essential.
“For too long, LGBTQ North Carolinians have lived under the shadow of archaic and outdated laws that impact everyone in our community, but most directly those of us that live at the intersections of multiple lenses of oppression,” Johnson said. “Black, Brown, transgender, and gender-nonconforming North Carolinians continue to suffer the greatest threats to life and safety under the legacy of House Bill 2, the lack of nondiscrimination protections in this state, through the invocation of the so-called ‘panic defense’ and at the hands of those practicing conversion therapy. We must pass these four bills so North Carolina can not only catch up with the rest of America but also begin to build a state that actively embraces the true diversity of the human experience.”
Versions of several of the bills have been filed previously without ever getting a vote in the General Assembly, whose Republican majority has generally opposed them. But advocates and lawmakers said things have changed significantly since the fight over HB2 five years ago.
“Since then, we’ve seen thousands of residents open their eyes to the mistreatment that LGBTQ people endure and open their hearts and minds to solutions that will make life in North Carolina more equitable,” said Allison Scott, Director of Impact & Innovation at the Campaign for Southern Equality.” This package of bills confronts the attempted erasure of LGBTQ minors, ensures everyone can live in public as their authentic self, and catches our laws up to where we really are as a state. It’s time to turn the page on the relics of our past such as HB2 and HB142 and move toward a path that is inclusive with an equitable future for our state.”
Cherry Iocovozzi, a food systems manager at East Fork Pottery in Asheville, said their employer makes them feel welcomed and protected as a non-binary person. But five years after HB2, that still isn’t the case everywhere in the state.
“Five years later, our economy is still missing out because LGBTQ people remain vulnerable to discrimination in NC,” Iocovozzi said. “We’re lagging behind the 20 other states that fully protect LGBTQ people, including our neighbors to the north in Virginia, who passed comprehensive protections last year. And while it’s great to see local communities passing nondiscrimination ordinances, 93% of our state’s residents live in municipalities without protections.”
“I want every LGBTQ person to feel included and welcome and free from discrimination, not just in the workplace but in every area of life,” Iocovozzi said. “Your basic freedoms should not depend on where you live.”
Several lawmakers also shared personal stories of how the issues addressed by these bills have impacted them or their families.
“I have family members in the LGBTQ community, including a grandchild that identifies as female and is transitioning,” said Rep. John Autry (D-Mecklenburg). “I would do anything to protect any of my children and my grandchildren, and that is why I am so supportive of these measures here today.”
Rep. Allison Dahle (D-Wake) shared that her aunt was a victim of conversion therapy.
“She’s in her late 70s and still to this day, there are ramifications from said ‘therapy,’ Dahle said. “So it’s very important to me that no child has to go through this, that no person has to go through this.”