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 Though House Bill 142 partially repealed HB2, it locked in place a ban on new LGBTQ protections — including nondiscrimination ordinances for employment and housing.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.

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Hillsborough passes first LGBTQ protections since HB2/HB142