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 Though House Bill 142 partially repealed HB 2, it locked in place a ban on new LGBTQ protections — including nondiscrimination ordinances for employment and housing — until this last month.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.

 

 

No conclusion in HB2 successor case despite plaintiffs, governor’s proposed agreement

ACLU staff attorney Chase Strangio (right) and client Joaquin Carcaño (left) talk to reporters about House Bill 142 after Friday’s court hearing. (Photo by Melissa Boughton)

Lawmakers do not want Gov. Roy Cooper to agree to allow transgender individuals to use restrooms under executive branch control that match their gender identity.

Cooper and the plaintiffs who are challenging House Bill 142, which replaced House Bill 2, the anti-LGBTQ legislation that became known as “the bathroom bill,” have been trying to enter into a consent decree for almost a year. Judge Thomas Schroeder, a George W. Bush appointee, heard arguments about it Friday.

The agreement would specify that HB142 could not be used to ban people from using restrooms or facilities consistent with their gender identity that are under the executive branch’s control or supervision. It would also allow local governments to interpret their laws to protect individuals from sex or gender identity discrimination.

It essentially codifies an opinion that Schroeder already made in the case. Gene Schaerr, an attorney for the legislative defendants — who intervened in the HB2 and HB142 litigation — said they oppose the agreement, even though they’re not included in it. He cited concerns about ambiguity in the agreement language, issues with federalism and keeping the federal court involved in a state government power struggle and the negotiation process between Cooper and the plaintiffs.

“Our clients care a lot about federalism,” Schaerr said.

Schroeder entertained those concerns and expressed some of his own, particularly in some of the vague language in the agreement, although the plaintiffs and attorneys for Cooper made some of it more specific to try and appease him and the legislative defendants. Schaerr was unfazed by that attempt.

There was no conclusion in the case, something Schroeder strived to make happen given that it’s been going on for three years. He ordered all the parties to work together over the next two weeks and to submit a new consent decree by May 31. He said he hopes everyone can be on board with some type of agreement, but if lawmakers still can’t approve it or just have no position on it, he’ll take up their additional concerns at that time.

If an agreement was approved by the court, it would end the lawsuit, with the exception of some damage claims involving the University of North Carolina — but those can’t be resolved until after the U.S. Supreme Court takes up pending cases involving Title VII and IX issues.

Chase Strangio, ACLU staff attorney for the LGBT and HIV project, said after Friday’s hearing that it was clear lawmakers were not interested in protecting transgender individuals, who are most harmed by HB142.

“People really need protections right now in this state and across the country,” he said. “Obviously, we want people to pass through North Carolina, we want North Carolinians to feel safe and protected by the laws, and so that is really what this is trying to effectuate and resolve this incredibly long-running litigation.”

Strangio said they would keep fighting for transgender rights in the state.

Plaintiff Joaquin Carcaño said all he wants is for transgender people to be protected and to be able to navigate daily life without barriers.

“They continue to put up a fight,” he said of lawmakers.

For some legislators, a personal fight for LGBTQ rights

When Democratic state lawmakers introduced a package of bills to protect LGBTQ North Carolinians  this week, they knew it would be a difficult road to passage.

The current Republican majority hasn’t let similar bills come to a vote when they were introduced in previous years.

A bill that would completely repeal HB2 will be a non-starter with many of the GOP legislators who passed it still in their seats.

A non-discrimination bill that explicitly protects lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people from discrimination in employment, housing and accommodation died in committee when last introduced.

The new bill outlawing “conversion” therapy for LGBTQ youth is likely to face stiff opposition from conservatives who believe such treatment is part of their religious freedom.

But for several of the lawmakers sponsoring the bills, it is not just important legislation – it’s personal.

“This is so deeply personal,” said Rep. Marcia Morey (D-Durham). “I was a judge for 18 years, listening to cases and affording peoples’ rights when my rights couldn’t be afforded. The hypocrisy of that…and probably one of the happiest days of my life was when the Supreme Court said, ‘Yes, same-sex couples can be married.'”

Rep. Marcia Morey (D-Durham)

Morey’s voice was thick with emotion as she emphasized the importance of the LGBTQ community — and legislators who are part of that community — pressing forward even in the face of a GOP majority that dismisses progress for them.

“So we keep talking about this community — well,  the community is here too,” Morey said of the legislature. “And it matters to respect everyone and for us to say everyone is  equal, everyone should be afforded their rights. And finally, after 60 years, to come out and say ‘Yes I am part of this community.’ Without the shame – because our laws are changing and our attitudes are changing. And love conquers hate and discrimination.”

Rep. Allison Dahle (D-Wake) agreed. Calling herself “a gay member of this big body of government,” Dahle said she remembered LGBTQ constituents being encouraged by her running for office. Those same people – and many more – are now in the fight with her for equality, she said.

“It’s a blessing to have all these people behind me pushing forward and saying that we’re all human beings and we all deserve respect,” Dahle said.

The environment of anti-LGBTQ sentiment in the state that continues to generate new bills against same-sex marriage can make LGBTQ North Carolinians feel isolated, Dahle said.

“It’s ostracizing but ostracizing in a very subtle way,” she said. “There are places you don’t want to go. We don’t have that big problem here in Wake County. But I hear reports from people in smaller counties that it just cuts off their social life, it cuts them off from being out in public.”

Rep. Allison Dahle (D-Wake)

The Mental Health Protection Act would protect LGBTQ people – especially youth – from being targeted in by harmful programs that have been disavowed by every major medical association, advocates said this week. The American Psychiatric Association, the American Medical Association, and the American Academy of Pediatrics all condemn the practice as harmful.

Though some religious organizations support the practice – meant to “cure” people who are gay, lesbian, bisexual or transgender – critics say it can’t be defended as an expression of religious freedom.

“This is a practice only an adult who has the mental capacity to consent should engage in, if they so choose,” said Kendra Johnson, executive director of Equality NC. “You cannot support electric shock therapy to change someone’s person, you cannot support sleep deprivation, starving children – all of those different things. Child abuse is not a parental right.”

More than 700,000 people have been subjected to the practice, which Johnson said has a strong correlation to suicide. Information on the number of North Carolinians who have undergone it is not readily available, she said, because the individuals and organizations who practice it are often not very transparent about it. Read more

HB2 ‘Bathroom Bill’: Costly then, costly now

It’s been more than 18 months since the repeal of HB2, yet the controversial ‘bathroom bill’ that required transgender people to use the public restrooms that corresponded to their sex at birth, continues to tarnish North Carolina’s image.

An article in The Charlotte Observer notes that the city is still dealing with fallout from the legislation (and replacement bill), and earmarking millions to market itself to travelers.

Here’s an excerpt from the the report:

HB2 was passed in 2016 under then Gov. Pat McCrory.

Included in the Charlotte Regional Visitors Authority’s current 2019 budget is $2 million in “Post HB2 Marketing/Sales support,” according to email records obtained by the Observer through a public records request.

The funding is for Visit Charlotte, a division of the CRVA. Visit Charlotte received $1 million last fiscal year for post-HB2 marketing/sales support, according to the report.

The $3 million total isn’t necessarily for one ad or creative approach, CRVA spokeswoman Laura White said. Rather, she said, it’s a “comprehensive place branding strategy” that includes more money spent on Charlotte’s branding, as well as consumer-facing media like TV ads in out-of-state markets and magazine ads.

White said the increase in marketing dollars is meant to deal with three concerns: cleaning up the city’s image post-HB2; improving its reputation following civil unrest from 2016 following the shooting of Keith Lamont Scott; and promoting Charlotte in regional markets such as Austin, Texas, Nashville, Tenn., and Asheville.

In its annual report for fiscal year 2018 sent to Mayor Vi Lyles and Charlotte City Council in late October, the CRVA noted that although HB2 was technically repealed and replaced with House Bill 142, North Carolina still remains under a travel ban from six states, with California and New York having the largest impact.

States with the travel bans have indicated to local tourism officials that HB 142 “did not go far enough in protecting individuals against discrimination,” said the CRVA, which is a division of the city of Charlotte funded with local hotel/motel and prepared food taxes.

“The CRVA is still finding that conventions with a high percentage of public employees attending are choosing to not come to Charlotte because of the potential of decreased attendance, which is up to 15 percent in some cases,” the group said.

Even after the repeal, roughly one in four travelers had a negative perception of North Carolina because of HB2, according to a July 2017 study commissioned by Destinations International, a professional organization that represents destination management groups.

Read the full article here in The Charlotte Observer.

Cooper: Transgender North Carolinans can use public bathrooms that match gender identity

Gov. Roy Cooper and Attorney General Josh Stein have proposed a solution for transgender North Carolinians who are prevented from using public restrooms that match their gender identity in legislation enacted to replace House Bill 2.

Cooper signed a non-discrimination Executive Order today for the state “to promote diversity and prohibit discrimination in government agencies and government contracts in an effort to make North Carolina a welcoming place to all.”

The order prohibits discrimination in his administration on the grounds of race, color, ethnicity, sex, National Guard or veteran status, sexual orientation, and gender identity or expression in employment, and it also requires those doing business with the state to do the same.

This means that transgender individuals will not be prohibited under HB142, which repealed HB2.

Cooper and other parties to the lawsuit over HB142 (formerly over HB2), Carcano v. Cooper, also submitted a consent decree to the court to resolve the dispute.

“Earlier this year, I said there was more work to do to protect against discrimination and make North Carolina a welcoming state,” Cooper said in an email. “Today’s executive order and consent decree are important steps toward fighting discrimination and enacting protections throughout state government and across our state.”

In a statement, the ACLU, which represents Joaquín Carcaño, a transgender man who is the lead plaintiff in the case, said some parties to the suit agreed to the decree because of the significant constitutional harms HB142 has caused transgender North Carolinians.

“Nothing can make up for the cruel and senseless attacks transgender people have faced in North Carolina, but I am hopeful that the court will agree to clarify the law so that we can live our lives in less fear,” said Carcaño.

The original sponsor of HB2, Sen. Dan Bishop (R-Mecklenburg), was not so thrilled with the news. He tweeted simply, “truce torched” with a link to a Facebook rant.

“Gov. Cooper, Attorney General Josh Stein and the ACLU propose a court ‘settlement’ that would guarantee access to opposite-sex restrooms, showers and changing facilities, statewide. They have joined together to ask for a ‘consent decree’ from the federal court that would prohibit officials ‘to … block, deter or impede’ anyone from using any ‘public facilities’ ‘in accordance with … gender identity.,'” he wrote. “It is the epitome of a collusive settlement. And an attack on the rule of law worthy of … well, I won’t say who. So much for the truce. I warned it would be fleeting. For anyone still prosaic enough to have regard for rights to physiological privacy — to be ‘distressed’ by ‘[t]he thought of male genitalia in girls’ locker rooms,” as the Observer put it many months ago — call the Governor’s office. Same goes for the business interests who pleaded for the HB2 controversy to be quelled by good faith compromise.”

You can read more thoughts from Cooper here and more from the ACLU here.