Greensboro, Durham and Orange County all pass LGBTQ-inclusive non-discrimination ordinances

The city councils in two of North Carolina’s largest cities unanimously passed LGBTQ-inclusive non-discrimination policies Tuesday, the latest in a series of municipalities to do so since a statewide ban on such local protections expired last month.

Greensboro and Durham, the state’s third and fourth largest cities respectively, followed the moves made by the smaller towns of Hillsborough, Carrboro and Chapel Hill last week. The Orange County Board of Commissioners also passed a county-wide non-discrimination policy.

“Government officials in cities large and small – and, this week, counties – are listening to their constituents, learning from the lived experiences of LGBTQ people, and coming to the appropriate conclusion: It’s time to protect LGBTQ North Carolinians from discrimination,” said Allison Scott, director of Policy & Programs at the Campaign for Southern Equality. “This week, as we enter a new political landscape at the national level, we celebrate progress locally and take heart in the hopeful message that tonight’s ordinances send to LGBTQ people not just in Durham, Greensboro, and Orange County — but all across North Carolina, and beyond.”

Kendra Johnson, executive director of LGBTQ advocacy group Equality NC, said the moves by local governments is an important response and counter-weight to the wave of racist, xenophobic and ant-LGBTQ sentiment in recent years that has included murders and other hate-related crimes.

Kendra Johnson, executive director of Equality NC

“With the rise of white supremacy in this country and the ongoing tumultuous transition of political power, these local protections will prove to be lifesaving mechanisms for the most vulnerable members of our communities in the years ahead. Equality NC eagerly anticipates other cities, towns and counties to follow suit,” Johnson said.

In Greensboro and Durham, the ordinances passed provide protections in employment and housing and, beyond LGBTQ identity, also offer non-discrimination protections for those with natural hair styles associated with a race or culture.

In Greensboro, where an existing 2015 non-discrimination policy was voided by the North Carolina General Assembly’s controversial passage of HB2, the new ordinance includes penalties including a fine of up to $500 for violations. That provision and the question of enforcement led to some tense discussion among council members.

“There has to be some teeth to give it substance,” said City Council member Justin Outling, who argued he wanted to see “substance behind the symbolism.”

“I am certainly for the harshest penalties available,” said City Council member Michelle Kennedy. But despite her feelings as an LGBTQ person in the community, Kennedy said, she is concerned that the city won’t have the legal ability through the state to enforce penalties.

Greensboro City Council Member Michelle Kennedy

“We watched HB2 rip us of the protections we already had in place, and we know that that is possible to happen again,” Kennedy said. “So I want to make absolutely sure that whatever we enact is not going to get clear cut by the state legislature as soon as we enact it. The city of Greensboro has been a direct target on issues such as these. It’s really important that whatever we put in place is ironclad and is not going to get upended.”

Carrboro’s new ordinance also included the possibility of a $500 fine. But Kennedy said the legislature has a history of targeting larger cities for such moves more often than smaller communities.

It is not yet clear how the legislature’s Republican majority will react to these new ordinances. In an interview posted to Twitter last week, N.C. Senate President Pro Tem Phil Berger (R-Rockingham) suggested the legislature will at least discuss the issue but suggested residents and businesses with objections may be best served in the courts.

“I think it is something that there will be some conversations about,” Berger said. “But my thought is that the more likely next step for folks that have concerns about what may be taking place would be those people who might be directly impacted in a way, maybe on their religious liberties, their businesses, or something.”

“I think the courts probably will be the appropriate forum for us to look at it,” he said said.

Mayor Nancy Vaughan said such uncomfortable discussions — even if they are only about how such an ordinance would be enforced — are “how you make sausage.”

Vaughan acknowledged that as a progressive community unafraid to “poke the bear,” Greensboro “has a target on its back” when it comes to the state’s conservative legislature. But Vaughan called the new ordinance an important step in reclaiming — and expanding — the protections to which the city was committed well before the HB2 fight.

“We want everybody in our community to be protected,” Vaughan said. “We want Greensboro to truly be a welcoming place.”

Jillian Johnson, mayor pro tem of Durham, said she hopes other communities will follow the lead of those who have passed new ordinances this week and last.

“LGBTQ North Carolinians have the right to dignity, equality, and fairness,” Johnson said. “Durham’s nondiscrimination ordinance is an important step on the road to the realization of full civil and human rights for LGBTQ people. As a queer resident of this community as well as an elected official, I’m proud to support this ordinance and urge communities across North Carolina to adopt similar legislation.”

Carrboro Town Council passes new LGBTQ protections after end of state ban

On Tuesday the town of Carrboro became the second municipality to pass a new LGBTQ-inclusive non-discrimination ordinance after a state ban on such ordinances expired last month. The move follows Hillsborough’s passage of a similar ordinance Monday.

“This is who we want to be and this is who we are,” said town council member Randee Haven-O’Donnell before the council’s unanimous passage of the ordinance.

The Carrboro Town Council.

The town committed to this move since back in March of 2016, after the General Assembly passed House Bill 2, the controversial state law that excluded lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people from statewide nondiscrimination protections. The law lead to international headlines, mass protests and boycotts that ultimately cost the state more than half a billion dollars. Though House Bill 142 partially repealed HB 2, it locked in place a ban on new LGBTQ protections — including nondiscrimination ordinances for employment and housing — until this last month.

In a special meeting five years ago, the council committed to passing non-discrimination protections as soon as it became possible.

“It’s been really interesting to me to hear how many people remember us having that meeting nearly five years ago and how many people remember us making this commitment to our neighbors,” said council member Damon Seils. “So that’s been pretty gratifying.

The new ordinance, part of the town code, makes it unlawful “for any proprietor or their employer, keeper, or manager in a place of public accommodation to deny any person, except for reasons applicable alike to all persons, regardless of race, natural hair or hairstyles, ethnicity, creed, color, sex, sexual orientation, gender identity or expression, national origin or ancestry, marital or familial status, pregnancy, veteran status, religious belief or non-belief, age, or disability the full enjoyment of the accommodations, advantages, facilities or privileges thereof.”

The ordinance goes further than Hillsborough’s in spelling out specific consequences for violation of the ordinance.

“Any person, firm, or corporation violating any provisions of this Article shall, under G.S. 14-4(a), be guilty of a Class 3 misdemeanor,” the ordinance reads. “And shall be fined five hundred dollars ($500.00). Each and every day during which such discrimination continues shall be deemed a separate offense.”

Any violator of the code may  “be subject to an enforcement action brought by the Town under G.S. 160A-175(d) and (e) for an appropriate equitable remedy, 3 including but not limited to a mandatory or prohibitory injunction commanding the defendant to correct the conduct prohibited under this Article.”

It was important to lay out remedies and penalties for a few different reasons, said Mayor Lydia Lavelle.

“Not that I necessarily anticipate we will have many if any large number of people who are violating this,” Lavelle said. “But I kind of feel like we understand that it’s such a strong value to this community we wanted to have some teeth in it. And because we know this is ultimately an ordinance that others might see and try to replicate or duplicate.”

In June the U.S. Supreme Court held that a section of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 protects employees against discrimination because of their sexual orientation or gender identity. But that doesn’t cover those working for businesses of fewer than 15 people, in gig economy positions like ride-share drivers and independent contractors. Municipalities still have an important role in making sure those workers are covered, LGBTQ advocates say, as the North Carolina General Assembly doesn’t appear likely to extend those nondiscrimination protections statewide.

Democrats had hoped to gain a majority in the General Assembly in the recent election, making full repeal of HB 2, HB 142 and the extension of statewide nondiscrimination protections more likely. Instead, Democrats lost seats in the legislature. But Gov. Roy Cooper, a Democrat, was easily reelected and the party maintained enough seats to sustain his vetoes.

That may be necessary as new local ordinances are likely to prompt action by the General Assembly as lawmakers return to Raleigh this week for the new legislative session.

“We’re doing what we’re doing because we don’t have statewide protections, right?” said Lavelle.

Passing local protections makes North Carolina the 48th state that has either statewide or local protections, Lavelle said.

“So we were really an outlier when we had the ability to do this until December 1,” she said. “Forty-seven other states either have protections like this or they allow their cities, counties, towns to do this. And so, this is not like some odd thing that we’re suddenly allowed to do here in North Carolina.”

Council members said they had already gotten push-back on the ordinance in the form of an e-mail campaign.

“We have gotten well over 100 e-mails from Christians that are entitled ‘Oppose Anti-religious liberty ordinance,'” said council member Jacquelyn Gist.

Speaking as a Christian, Gist said, the ordinance is about protecting liberty — religious and otherwise — by protecting everyone’s rights.

“Religious liberty to me means the liberty to believe what you want to believe,” Gist said. “It means liberty and freedom from religion as much as it means liberty to have religion.”

“The push out there to limit peoples’ religious faith and how they live it is really, really dangerous,” Gist said. “It means working toward a state religion. What we’re doing here is working toward a government that’s free from religion. I personally believe faith is meaningless if you’re told you have to have it.”

The Chapel Hill Town Council is expected to pass a similar ordinance at its meeting at 7 p.m. Wednesday and the city of Durham is expected to take up this issue later this month. Other municipalities across the state, large and small, are preparing their own ordinances.

 

 

Hillsborough passes first LGBTQ protections since HB2/HB142

The Hillsborough Board of Commissioners unanimously passed a new LGBTQ-inclusive non-discrimination ordinance Monday.

The town of Hillsborough passed an LGBTQ-inclusive non-discrimination ordinance Monday, becoming the first municipality to do so since a three year state ban on such ordinances expired last month.

The ban on local non-discrimination ordinances was the legacy of 2016’s brutal fight over HB2, the controversial law that excluded lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people from statewide nondiscrimination protections. Though House Bill 142 partially repealed HB2, it locked in place a ban on new LGBTQ protections — including nondiscrimination ordinances for employment and housing.

But on Monday night the Hillsborough Board of Commissioners unanimously passed a new ordinance prohibiting discrimination in employment and public accommodation “based on race, creed, color, sex, sexual orientation, gender identity or expression, national origin or ancestry, marital or familial status, pregnancy, veteran status, religious belief, age, or disability.”

The ordinance does not cover multiple occupancy restrooms, showers or changing facilities. Under HB142, the North Carolina General Assembly is still the only body that can regulate access in those places.

Similar non-discrimination ordinances will be taken up this week by Carrboro and Chapel Hill later this week. A new ordinance are also expected in Durham later this month.

The new ordinances set up a potential fight with the North Carolina General Assembly, whose Republican majority has defended HB2 in the face of protests,  lawsuits and national boycotts that cost the state more than half a billion dollars. Lawmakers return to Raleigh for a new legislative session Wednesday, the first since the non-discrimination ordinance ban expired. It is not yet clear how the legislature may react, but Democratic lawmakers say Gov. Roy Cooper will veto any new assaults on non-discrimination ordinances and they have the votes to sustain his veto.

Opposition to HB2 sparked large and vocal demonstrations at the General Assembly in 2016. With the sunsetting of a bill that blocked LGBTQ protections, advocates see the starting point for new and important work in expanding those rights. (Photo: Phil Fonville

“I want to think optimistically that we can work across the aisle and keep those kinds of prohibitions from happening to our cities,” said State Rep. Susan Fisher (D-Buncombe) last month. “But the truth of the matter is I think there are folks who were watching for this day and making plans for what they might do to reverse it or reestablish a bill like 142.”

LGBTQ advocates praised Hillsborough’s ordinance Monday night, calling it an important first step to repairing the damage done by HB2 and HB 142.

“It’s a new day for LGBTQ North Carolinians, who for too long have lived under the legacy of discrimination in this state enshrined by HB 2 and HB 142,” said Kendra Johnson, executive director of LGBTQ advocacy organization Equality NC.  “This move by Hillsborough’s elected officials is an important first step in affirming that North Carolina is a safe and welcoming place for LGBTQ people to call home – but the work is far from over. We must keep fighting until LGBTQ nondiscrimination protections extend well beyond the borders of this incredible small town, and ensure that our communities are protected within every corner of this state and every arena of life.”

Allison Scott, director of policy and  programs at Campaign for Southern Equality, agreed.

“We live in divisive and challenging times, so seeing local communities unite to pass common sense legislation protecting their neighbors from discrimination is an inspiring breath of fresh air,” Scott said. “This leadership from lawmakers in Hillsborough and other municipalities will move North Carolina closer to our vision of a state where all people can thrive. LGBTQ North Carolinians — especially transgender people like me — have lived under the trauma and erasure of anti-LGBTQ laws in our state for too long. But today, many of us feel valued.”

Opponents of LGBTQ-inclusive non-discrimination ordinances are already opposing them. Tami Fitzgerald, executive director of the NC Values Coalition, was on for the Hillsborough Board of Commissioners’ virtual meeting Tuesday night, arguing against passage of town’s new ordinance.

“Ordinances like the one you’re considering tonight undermine fairness and freedom,” Fitzgerald told the commissioners Tuesday, arguing they “advance discrimination against people of faith” by dictating how they do business with regard to LGBTQ people with no religious exemptions.

Mayor Jenn Weaver, the daughter of a minister, rejected that notion.

“I would offer that this reflects the values of our community,” said Weaver.

“My father was a pastoral counselor for over 40 years,” Weaver said. “He went to Union Seminary and was ordained at Binkley Baptist here and I grew up in Myers Park Baptist Church down in Charlotte. It was what I learned from my father and that upbringing that leads me to support this ordinance and the protection of all the people listed therein.”

Commission Mark Bell shared that the issue is personal for his family, which includes a transgender child.

“The thought of my kid in the future losing employment, health care or being discriminated against — especially under the grounds of someone’s religion — is offensive,” Bell said.

Commissioner Matt Hughes said towns like Hillsborough have to take the first steps on non-discrimination.

“The reason localities are doing this is the General Assembly and Congress have failed to protect so many people,” Hughes said.

The Carrboro Town Council will consider a similar ordinance at its meeting 7 p.m. Tuesday and the Chapel Hill Town Council will do so at its meeting at 7 p.m. Wednesday.

“Hippies for Trump”: Asheville man among nine North Carolinians arrested for right-wing insurrection at U.S. Capitol

On Monday, as thousands of supporters of President Donald Trump prepared to travel to Washington, D.C., to protest the certification of President-elect Joe Biden’s election, 46-year-old Thomas Gronek of Asheville was ready.

A friend of Gronek posted photos and a video to Facebook showing off Gronek’s ride — an old school bus spray-painted with a psychedelic color scheme, Grateful Dead iconography, pro-Trump graffiti and “Stop The Steal” messages.

Image: Facebook

The next day. the bus was stopped by the D.C. Metropolitan police in the 700 block of Constitution Avenue, minutes from the United States Capitol. Police said they found fireworks, a pistol, a rifle, a large-capacity ammunition feeding device and more than 300 rounds of ammunition aboard. Gronek was arrested on weapons charges. The driver of the bus,  34-year-old Timothy Keller, 34, of Asheville, was charged with “no permit” for the bus, according to police reports.

Fox46 of Charlotte reported the identities of other North Carolinians arrested at or near the Capitol yesterday, bringing the total to nine:

  • Jere Brower, 45, for curfew violation and unlawful entry.
  • Earl Glosser, 40, for curfew violation and unlawful entry.
  • Lance Grames, 42 for curfew violation and unlawful entry.
  • Tim Scarboro, 33, for curfew violation.
  • James Smawley, 27, for curfew violation.
  • Jay Thaxton, 46, curfew violation.
  • Michael Jones, 23, for curfew violation.

The arrest of the two Asheville men was one of many obvious red flags before an armed mob violently stormed the Capitol Wednesday, clashing with police and forcing their way onto the House and Senate floors, as lawmakers were evacuated or had to shelter in place until order was restored. One woman, who was trying to break down a door inside the Capitol, was shot by law enforcement, and three other people died in medical emergencies. More than a dozen police officers were injured; the FBI found and disarmed two improvised explosive devices. The National Guard had to be called in to help remove rioters from the Capitol and restore order as a city-wide curfew went into place at 6 p.m.

Thomas Gronek, from a video posted to Facebook shortly before his arrest on weapons charges in Washington D.C.

Though lawmakers and law enforcement have denounced the violent riot as unimaginable, right-wing groups and individuals had been laying out just this sort of scenario for months in increasingly erratic and violent social media posts.

On Oct. 30, as Trump was already suggesting his loss would be defacto proof of election fraud and a conspiracy to end his presidency, Gronek himself took to Facebook to post a long screed praising the president and denouncing his opponents and “the evil govt.” In the post Gronek warned of a “mass takeover of the country” in which he feared the constitution would be changed and suggested people opposing Trump and brainwashing the American public may actually be aliens.

“They think we aren’t smart enough to see the reality of this tarded ass mass takeover of our country,” Gronek wrote. ” ENOUGH IS EHOUGH![sic]”

“I will not stand and watch these people or aliens or what ever they are manipulate and screw with your minds into believing that you need them back in power,” Gronek wrote.

By the time he boarded his bus for D.C. this week, Gronek’s confusing but confrontational sentiments had not softened.

In the video in which he showed off his bus, Gronek smiles and lifts a fist on which he appears to be wearing a gauntlet covered in sharp spikes.

“I’ve got this for antifa,” he said, bragging about other weapons he had and ranting against “Asheville antifa.”

“I like my guns,” Gronek said in the video as he pointed out a skull emblem affixed to the front of the bus framed by two pistols, not far from the message “love is the answer.”

Right-wing insurrectionists enter the U.S. Capitol Building On Jan. 6. (Photo by Win McNamee/Getty Images)

Parler, a social media site embraced by conservatives as an alternative to Twitter and its policies against posts encouraging violence or spreading information, saw a wave of similar rhetoric in the run-up to the siege of the capitol.

A week ago a Parler user with the handle “QanonLV” posted “To all the Patriots descending on Washington DC on #jan6….come armed….”

The post has so far been up-voted by other users 870 times and “echoed” (Parler’s version of a re-tweet) by 251 people.

On Thursday, in the wake of the insurrection, the same user was one of many falsely claiming that left-wing activists posing as pro-Trump had actually instigated the violence.

“They set us up,” the user posted.

With Republican lawmakers and media personalities themselves divided on how to best react to the violence and who to blame, right-wing social media also seems to have splintered into factions.

A large number of Parler posts Wednesday and Thursday immediately began blaming left-wing protesters, “antifa” and even the D.C. Metro police for the violence. A number of these centered on internet memes that claim to identify specific rioters photographed at the Capitol as left-wing activists. Those memes misidentify a number of those in the photographs, as has been widely reported.

Even prominent right-wing personalities like Gavin McInnes, founder of the Proud Boys, took to Parler to discredit those posts. McInnes pointed out that some of the most prominent rioters identifiable by photographs, such as a bare-chested man in faux-Norseman costume people have called “Horns,” are Trump supporters and Q-Anon conspiracy theorists well known on the internet. Read more

New chancellor announced at ECU (again)

Dr. Philip G. Rogers was officially chosen as the 12th chancellor of East Carolina University Thursday.

The UNC Board of Governors unanimously elected Rogers, who is now senior vice president for learning and engagement at the non-profit American Council on Education (ACE).

Rogers was raised in Greenville. Several generations of his family are ECU graduates. Rogers himself began his career in higher education at ECU, serving as chief of staff for former Chancellor Steven Ballard in 2008.

Dr. Philip Rogers

Before taking that position, Rogers earned a bachelor’s degree in communications from Wake Forest University,  a master’s in public administration from UNC-Chapel Hill and doctorate in higher education management from the University of Pennsylvania.

“Dr. Rogers is a driven leader who brings energy and vitality to ECU,” said UNC System President Peter Hans at Thursday’s UNC Board of Governors meeting. “He has broad national higher education experience and deep local roots in Greenville. Philip is invested in ECU for the long haul and will bring steady, stable leadership. It’s my enormous pleasure to welcome Philip and his family home.”

Board of Governors Chair Randy Ramsey also praised Rogers.

“Dr. Rogers embodies the spirit of the Pirate Nation,” Ramsey said. “He is homegrown and fiercely loyal to eastern North Carolina. When he assumes his role at ECU’s helm, I’m confident Philip will lead the university and the region it serves to greater heights of innovation and success.”

Rogers will be ECU’s fourth chancellor in three years.

Two of those chancellors — Cecil Staton and Dan Gerlach —ended their tenures in scandal, political controversy and a lawsuit.

Staton was ousted from his position in 2019 in a conflict with the UNC Board of Governors over which he sued earlier this year.

Interim Chancellor Dan Gerlach resigned under a cloud last October after video surfaced online of him drinking and dancing with students in local bars — and then stumbling down the street before getting into his car and driving away. An investigation into that incident exposed the involvement of UNC Board of Governors members in making the Gerlach footage public, which they claimed they were doing in concert with GOP leaders in Raleigh.

The school’s board of trustees has also been rocked by scandal. Earlier this year two of its members resigned amid controversy over their trying to influence a student government election.

Around the same time, several members of the board of trustees told Policy Watch N.C. House Speaker Tim Moore was pursuing the chancellorship at ECU. Earlier this year Moore said he declined an offer to interview for the job, though he had not officially applied.

Rogers will take the helm at ECU on March 15, taking over from Interim Chancellor Ron Mitchelson.