The Charlotte City Council unanimously approved new non-discrimination protections Monday, completing the work state lawmakers blocked with the passage of HB2 and its ensuing national controversy five years ago.
A ban on such local non-discrimination ordinances expired last year. On Monday, Charlotte became the tenth community — and by far the largest — to pass new protections.
“It’s now our time,” said Mayor Vi Lyles in a speech before the vote. “Charlotte, like many other North Carolina cities, is stepping up to provide equal justice.”
State law still prevents local governments from regulating access to bathrooms or changing rooms through local ordinances, the piece of Charlotte’s ordinance on which Republican lawmakers seized five years ago when passing HB2. But the new protections create a new definition of “protected class” that includes race, color, gender, religion, ethnicity, disability, familial and veteran status, pregnancy and natural hairstyles. It also includes sex, and expands its definition to include sexual orientation, gender identity and gender expression.
The expanded protections include sexual orientation, gender identity, gender expression and familial status to passenger vehicles for hire, the city’s commercial non-discrimination policy, public accommodations and employment.
Employment protections have been a key point in discussions of new and expanded non-discrimination ordinances. Nine other cities or counties have passed such protections, including Apex, Asheville, Buncombe County, Carrboro, Chapel Hill, Durham, Greensboro, Hillsborough and Orange County. But as the state’s largest city and home to some of its largest companies, Charlotte’s new protections will have an even larger impact.
“Tonight is a win, not only for the LGBTQ community, but for all Charlotteans,” said Bethany Corrigan, executive director of Transcend Charlotte, in a statement Monday night.
“We are only as strong as the least protected, and this expanded ordinance is a milestone toward equality in the Queen City,” Corrigan said. “We applaud City Council for their bipartisan collaboration in passing this comprehensive ordinance and honor the advocates who have tirelessly sacrificed for this moment.”
Kendra Johnson, executive director of Equality NC, said the vote shows an undeniable momentum for LGBTQ protections.
“Small towns, mid-sized cities, counties, and now the largest city in North Carolina have all taken steps to protect LGBTQ people and illustrate that NC is ready for these protections statewide,” Johnson said in a statement late Monday.
Daniel Valdez, president of Charlotte Pride, said he hoped this step by the state’s largest city will inspire other communities.
“With the new protections passed tonight, Charlotte finally joins its peer cities in protecting LGBTQ residents and visitors to our city,” Valdez sad in a statement after Monday’s council vote. “Tonight’s vote is a strong sign that Charlotte has finally turned a page in our decades-long fight for equality in our city. We’re hopeful that Mecklenburg County and other area towns and cities will follow Charlotte’s example.”
It’s not yet clear how Charlotte will enforce the new protections. The city’s Budget and Effectiveness Committee will put together recommendations for the full council’s consideration before the majority of the expanded ordinance goes into effect on October 1. Enforcement of the employment provision, which has the potential to generate the most complaints, is set to begin January 1.
Allison Scott, director of Impact & Innovation at the Campaign for Southern Equality, said it’s time for lawmakers beyond local communities to join in creating and enforcing non-discrimination protections.
“Leaders across North Carolina – including our U.S. Senators from NC – should look at what’s happening in our state,” Scott said in a statement Monday. “Communities are taking a stand to protect LGBTQ people from discrimination, which leads to safer, more inclusive places to live, work, and raise families. It’s time now to ensure that no LGBTQ North Carolinian is left vulnerable to discrimination – and that will require action from elected officials at every level of government.”