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.

Campaign for Southern Equality offers new round of COVID-19 response grants

This week the Campaign for Southern Equality is reopening applications for its COVID-19 Rapid Response Grant Program, making available $125,000 in grants for the immediate needs of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender southerners who are experiencing hardships due to the pandemic.

This round of grant making, applications for which open Thursday, will bring the total funding made available through the program to more than $200,000 since March.

The bulk of the new grant money — more than $100,000 — will be for $100 emergency assistance grants to be used for immediate needs like groceries, rent or mortgage payments and medicine. The program will also provide $500 community response grants and frontline grants to direct service providers that will be larger than $500.

Allocations will concentrate on reaching people of color, transgender people, people in rural areas and with low incomes, the group said in a release Wednesday. That continues a commitment to which the group has adhered in its first three region-wide rounds of grants. According to program info provided by the group, 60 percent of grant recipients have so far been people of color and 72 percent transgender or gender non-conforming. Those who received grants have described losing hourly jobs in the service industry and dealing with chronic health problems or the need to pay for hormone replacement therapy prescriptions.

“With these grants, we are moving money directly to individuals and families, because that is what people have told us will most effectively address their immediate needs,” said Rev. Jasmine Beach-Ferrara, executive director of the Campaign for Southern Equality, in the release. “Right now, LGBTQ people across the South are hurting, worrying about how they’ll make it through the next month financially while also doing everything they can to remain healthy, save their jobs, and care for their loved ones.”

“Folks who have received grants already have let us know that these $100 emergency assistance grants not only allow them to buy food and make rent, but also let them know that there’s a community that cares about them and is ready to support them,” Beach-Ferrara said.

More information on the program, including how to apply, is available here.

Advocates highlight LGBTQ discrimination, vulnerability in COVID-19 pandemic

With the U.S. Supreme Court set to rule any day on whether Title VII of the Civil Rights Act protects LGBTQ people from employment discrimination, advocates are emphasizing the importance of the decision in the COVID-19 pandemic.

In a video press conference Wednesday Equality NC, the state’s largest LGBTQ advocacy group, highlighted the increased vulnerability of marginalized people during the pandemic  — particularly transgender people of color.

The Supreme Court heard oral arguments in several discrimination cases in October and could rule any time between this week and a self-imposed deadline next month.

Ames Simmons, policy director for Equality NC, said the ruling coming in the middle of a pandemic underlines the potentially dire consequences of a loss to the LGBTQ community.

“We are in the middle of a pandemic like we’ve never seen before and it’s important to lift up that members of the LGBTQ community also hold identities that may make us either more vulnerable to COVID-19 or make the effects of COVID-19 worse,” Simmons said.

Ames Simmons, Policy Director for Equality NC, addresses LGBTQ health disparities during Wednesday’s video press conference.

Like many marginalized groups in society, LGBTQ people suffer from higher rates of chronic health conditions that may make them more vulnerable to the coronavirus or make its effects more deadly.

About 1.4 million LGBTQ people in the U.S. live with diabetes, including 81,000 transgender people.

While HIV is not a de facto risk factor for COVID-19, those living with the disease who are immunosuppressed and/or unable to afford or access treatment are at greater risk. Among LGBTQ people in the U.S., HIV impacts 1 in 2 Black cisgender men and transgender women, 1 in 4 Latinx cisgender men and transgender women. About 75,000 transgender people are living with the disease, Simmons said, according to the best available statistics.

“It’s been measured that people in the LGBTQ community are more likely to have asthma,” Simmons said — something from which he himself suffers.

About 21 percent of LGBTQ people are asthmatic as compared to 14 percent of non-LGBTQ people.

Like many marginalized groups dealing with higher levels of stress, LGBTQ people are more likely to smoke, which leads to  greater respiratory health disparities.

The percentage of smokers in the LGBTQ population is 37% compared to 22% of non-LGBTQ people. That number includes 278,000 transgender people.

There are also estimated to be about 1.7 million LGBTQ people over 50 years old.

Because of historic and ongoing discrimination from the medical community, LGBTQ tend to have a fraught relationship with health providers. They also report having less access to care.

Kendra Johnson, executive director of Equality NC.

In the latest polling, 450,000 transgender adults report they have not gone to the doctor in the last year because they could not afford it.

LGBTQ people are much more likely to be without health insurance — about 17%  of LBGTQ adults are uninsured, compared to 12% of non-LGBTQ people. For transgender adults, that number is 22%.

Among LGBTQ people of color, the numbers are worse — 23% are uninsured. For transgender people of color, it is 32%.

LGBTQ people are also less likely to have paid sick leave (just 29%) or paid family medical leave (20%) that they could use if they or a family member become ill.

The coronavirus and the social distancing necessary to prevent is spread have been devastating for the economy — and particularly for LGBTQ people and industries that most employ them. About 15% of all LGBTQ workers work in restaurants — about 2 million people. More than 5 million LGBTQ people work in the food, hospitality and personal services industries, which have been hardest hit. While about 22% of the general population has reported a cut in work hours, that number among LGBT people is 30%.

Even before the pandemic, many LGBTQ people faced higher rates of unemployment and underemployment. Transgender people were three times as likely to be unemployed.

Those are particularly disturbing health and employment related  numbers for a population that could see a Supreme Court decision taking away what workplace discrimination protections they do now have, Simmons said.

That makes it all the more important to pass federal non-discrimination protections, Simmons said, however the Supreme Court rules on the current cases.

Only 22 states currently have explicit laws prohibiting discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity. North Carolina is not among them — but neighboring state Virginia is and has recently passed a raft of LGBTQ protections.

Source: Movement Advancement Project

 

Kendra Johnson, executive director of Equality NC, said the lack of state tracking of LGBTQ statistics is itself a great harm to the community.

“The data issue is a major roadblock for a lot of our efforts,” Johnson said. ” It’s practically systematic erasure of our community.”

With many state doing no tracking of things like LGBTQ hate crimes and gathering little to no data on health disparities for LGBTQ people, Johnson said, they are undercounted and underrepresented.

“In almost every system we are an afterthought,” Johnson said.

The looming Supreme Court decisions could be a big turning point in that changing, Johnson said, at least in terms of non-discrimination protections.

It could hardly come at a more vital time, she said.