North Carolina communities making LGBTQ equality gains, according to annual report

North Carolina towns and cities are largely scoring higher on LGBTQ equality measures, according to a new study from The Human Rights Campaign.

The national LGBTQ advocacy organization released its annual Municipal Equality Index Wednesday, scoring more than 500 cities across the country on 49 different criteria with regard to law, policies and services of municipalities. The group calls the annual report, in its eleventh year, “the nation’s premier benchmarking tool for municipal officials, policy makers and business leaders to understand how well cities across the nation are embodying LGBTQ+ inclusion in their laws, policies, and services.”

The index examined ten North Carolina municipalities, the same number as last year. Three of those cities – Carrboro, Chapel Hill and Greensboro – received perfect scores of 100.

While Chapel Hill and Greensboro received perfect scores last year as well, Carrboro’s score is up from 84 last year. While the scores for most North Carolina municipalities rose or stayed the same in the last year Durham, which got a 100 last year, fell to 92.

Durham’s drop came in the “municipality as employer” section of the evaluation. Last year, the city got 26 out of a possible 28 points in this section, while this year that dropped to 20. The city was scored zero of a possible two points under the “inclusive workplace” metric and zero of a possible three points under the “city contractor non-discrimination ordinance” metric.

The city also got fewer “flex points” this year than last – extra points awarded to municipalities on criteria that “aren’t available to all cities at this time.” This can boost the total score for a municipality, though none of the scores can exceed 100.  Flex points are awarded, for instance, for cities offering city employee domestic partner benefits and those that have youth bullying prevention policies.

Last year Durham got two flex points for the city providing services specific to LGBTQ youth and two for providing services to LGBTQ people experiencing homelessness. This year, it got zero flex points in each of those categories.

Some of last year’s lowest scoring municipalities had dramatic increases in this year’s report. Cary, which scored 12 last year, is at 50 this year. Wilmington, which was at 36 last year, jumped 10 points to a score of 46.  Some of the increased scores can be attributed to a successful campaign to get municipalities across the state to adopt local non-discrimination ordinances.

As Policy Watch has reported, the new ordinances became possible when a state ban on new local protections — including nondiscrimination ordinances for employment and housing — was lifted. The ban was a legacy of the brutal fight over HB 2 and HB 142, the controversial laws that excluded lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people from statewide nondiscrimination protections.

This year’s municipal equality report comes as a rising tide of anti-LGBTQ bills sweep state legislatures across the country, the U.S. Senate moves to protect marriage equality and LGBTQ people face a sharp increase in politically motivated violence.

“This year, we’ve seen a disturbing number of extremist legislators attacking transgender and non-binary youth for no reason other than to erase them and their families,” said JoDee Winterhof, senior vice president of Policy and Political Affairs for The Human Rights Campaign. “However, we’re seeing local leaders continue to push forward in making equality and inclusion the cornerstone of their cities. By doing so, they have helped to create safe, welcoming spaces for all families while spurring economic growth by signaling to residents, visitors and employers that their city is open to everyone.”

The full equality index rankings for North Carolina, in descending order:

Wake County leaders unite to celebrate new non-discrimination ordinances

Elected leaders from across Wake County came together Tuesday to celebrate their unified adoption of non-discrimination ordinances. (Photo: Equality NC)

On Tuesday the Campbell University School of Law hosted elected officials from across Wake County as they celebrated new LGBTQ-inclusive non-discrimination ordinances in Raleigh, Knightdale and Morrisville.

Leaders from those communities signed a joint ceremonial document in support of protections from discrimination in employment and public accommodation in places like restaurants and hotels.

As Policy Watch has reported, the new ordinances became possible when a state ban on new local protections — including nondiscrimination ordinances for employment and housing — was lifted. The ban was a legacy of the  brutal fight over HB 2 and HB 142, the controversial laws that excluded lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people from statewide nondiscrimination protections.

Since the ban on new ordinances expired, 18 communities across the state have adopted non-discrimination ordinances.

Campbell’s law school has taken the lead in helping resolve complaints filed through the ordinance process.

Kendra Johnson, executive director of Equality North Carolina, applauded the signing in a statement Tuesday.

“Today we celebrated the commitment of Raleigh, Knightdale and Morrisville to making their communities inclusive of all,” Johnson said. “No one should have to fear bigotry based on their ZIP code, nor should they have to move to avoid discrimination. Having non-discrimination ordinances sends a clear and powerful message that all people are welcomed and included in their home communities.”

In its statement, Equality NC stressed new and proactive state and federal protections are still needed.

“We celebrate this commitment to equality and look forward to North Carolina being a stellar example of what diversity and equity look like in legislation,” the group said in its statement. “The momentum behind these signings shows that North Carolina stands ready, and we encourage others to communicate to their local leaders now is the time to pass LGBTQ protections, demand that our state lawmakers fully repeal discriminatory laws and enact proactive protections, and urge our elected officials in the United States Congress and the NCGA to support comprehensive nondiscrimination laws.”

As Policy Watch reported last month, North Carolina has so far resisted a national wave of anti-LGBTQ legislation. But LGBTQ advocates and Democratic state lawmakers warn of gathering momentum for such laws on the political right. With elections looming, the political calculus at both the state and federal level could soon change.

Robinson, Walker respond to criticism of LGBTQ comments, connections to right wing religious group

This week Policy Watch published a story delving into the connections between Lt. Gov. Mark Robinson, U.S. Rep. Madison Cawthorn, former U.S. Rep. Mark Walker and right-wing religious group the American Renewal Project.

The group rejects the separation between church and state -particularly in public schools –  condemns LGBTQ people and Muslims and regularly uses religious war rhetoric while portraying Christians as marginalized and oppressed in America. Robinson, Cawthorn and Walker attended one of the group’s events in Asheville this week. Robinson is scheduled to headline more events for the group through the end of the year.

Since the story was published, Robinson – the state’s highest-ranking Republican elected official – has found himself at the center of yet another controversy over anti-LGBTQ remarks.

This week the group Right Wing Watch posted to Twitter a video of Robinson speaking at Seagrove church in June. In the speech he railed against public schools and LGBTQ people in the sort of language that has been common throughout his time in office. But this video, like the 2018 clip of a public speech on gun rights that took him from political obscurity to high public office, went viral online.

“There’s no reason anybody, anywhere in America should be telling children about transgenderism, homosexuality, any of that filth,” Robinson said in the video clip of his church speech. “Yes, I called it filth.”

The comments have led to calls for his resignation from prominent Democrats and condemnation from the White House.

“These words are repugnant and offensive,” said Andrew Bates, White House deputy press secretary, in a statement Friday. “The role of a leader is to bring people together and stand up for the dignity and rights of everyone; not to spread hate and undermine their own office.”

Robinson is defending the remarks in interviews and statements. On Friday night, he used the controversy in a fund-raising e-mail in which he asked supporters to help him “continue the fight against the left.”

The letter, in its entirety:

Democrats and RINOs (Republicans in Name Only) are calling on me to resign from my position because I am taking a stand against the sexualization of our children in public schools.
Let me be clear: I. WILL. NOT.
I will not resign, and I will not stop the fight. The left is attacking me because I scare them. I’m a black man who grew up poor and am a Christian Conservative. I am the first black Lieutenant Governor of North Carolina who stands on conservative values.
I am a fighter who doesn’t cower to the left, and because of that they hate me. They attack me, they call me names. WRAL even went so far as to depict me (A member of the State School Board) as a member of the KKK!
These calls of resignation are intended to bully me into silence. It will not work.
I will continue to fight for the children of our state, and for the rights of parents to decide when and how sexual content is discussed with their kids.
I am not a politician, and I hope that I am never seen as one. I am a Patriot, and I need other Patriots to stand with me.
I am calling on 1,000 Patriots to show their support by donating $5, $10, $25, $50, or more so that we can continue the fight against the left. Together, we will push back against the radical left and their tactics of intimidation.
STAND WITH ME
Mark Robinson
Lieutenant Governor of North Carolina

Robinson has still not responded to Policy Watch’s questions about his association with the American Renewal Project, his views on LGBTQ people or his recent remarks.But we did hear from Walker Friday afternoon. The former congressman and current U.S. Senate candidate said Policy Watch’s story didn’t give a nuanced view of his politics or his support from across the political spectrum. He also took exception to the story’s characterization of his criticisms of Bruce Springsteen over his cancelling a 2106 concert in Greensboro North Carolina over HB2.

Walker’s e-mail to Policy Watch: Read more

“This is about dignity.” Mecklenburg County advances non-discrimination ordinances protecting LGBTQ people

With Tuesday’s unanimous vote, Mecklenburg County is poised to become the 13th local government in North Carolina to approve LGBTQ-inclusive nondiscrimination protections.

The ordinances ensure protections in private employment and places of public accommodations – such as restaurants and businesses – from discrimination based on sexual orientation, gender identity, and natural hairstyle.

Commissioner Leigh Altman told her colleagues on the board it was time to listen to the concerns of the LGBTQ community.

“We are all God’s children, and we are entitled to live in peace and dignity. But that doesn’t happen by well wishes alone,” said Altman in her prepared remarks.

Commissioner Pat Cotham also spoke passionately about the need to embrace this change.

Commissioner Pat Cotham

“This is about dignity. But you don’t have dignity, unless you have strength. And this ordinance is the strength. Because otherwise you can say ‘Here’s your dignity’ but if you can’t do anything about it, you really don’t have dignity,” Cotham explained.

The amended ordinance include all employers.

While the move by the county commissioners will require one more vote to become law, the action is drawing praise from advocacy organizations across the state.

“Measures like these will make Mecklenburg County a better place, especially for people with multiple layers of marginalization,” said Kendra R. Johnson, Executive Director of Equality North Carolina. “We applaud the Commissioners for taking this action, and we encourage them to pass this NDO swiftly.”

“Now Commissioners must finalize the vote and join 12 other communities across North Carolina with strong nondiscrimination ordinances on the books. It’s time to ensure that no one is left vulnerable to discrimination in our state,” said the Campaign for Southern Equality’s Allison Scott.

With the sunset of HB142, numerous municipalities have passed nondiscrimination ordinances this year including: Apex, Asheville, Buncombe County, Carrboro, Chapel Hill, Charlotte, Durham, Greensboro, Hillsborough, and Orange County.

Click below to hear Commissioner Leigh Altman’s remarks:

HRC President to NCAA: time to pull tournaments in states that discriminate against trans athletes

The president of the Human Rights Campaign is asking the NCAA president and governing board to pull tournaments from states that have passed laws and executive orders barring transgender women from women’s sports.

As Policy Watch has reported, a bill is still in play in North Carolina that could do just that. As HRC President Alphonso David points out in his letter, similar bills have already passed into law in Alabama, Arkansas, Mississippi and Tennessee. A ban is in place in South Dakota by executive order.

NCAA and pro athletes have called for the NCAA to take the step, to which it has not yet explicitly committed. The NCAA has a policy that allows for the inclusion of transgender athletes and has said that it will work to be sure transgender athletes are safe from discrimination in states where it operates events. But tournaments are scheduled for Alabama and Tennessee in less than three weeks.

“This is a national crisis, and one that necessitates united action, including from the NCAA,” David wrote. “In sanctioning states that enact blatantly discriminatory laws in violation of NCAA policy, the NCAA will not only be standing on the right side of history, it will also be putting itself squarely in line with the overwhelming majority of the American people. A poll released on April 16 made clear that the vast majority of Americans, including a majority of Americans in all political parties, oppose legislation limiting the rights of transgender student athletes.”

Read David’s full letter below:

Dear President Emmert & NCAA Governance,

Thank you for your response to my March letter. I am also grateful for your subsequent statement condemning anti-trans sports legislation and committing to tournament host sites that are “safe, healthy, and free of discrimination,” but we need the NCAA to turn that commitment into action to achieve impact for athletes. According to our analysis and after hearing from transgender athletes across the country and in these states, the anti-transgender legislation being passed and enacted do create an unsafe, unhealthy, and discriminatory environment for transgender athletes. This merits and necessitates action from the NCAA to withdraw championship events from the states that have already enacted such legislation, and make clear that states that enact them in the future will face the same consequences.

In Alabama, Arkansas, Mississippi, Tennessee, and South Dakota there are now overtly discriminatory laws or, in the case of South Dakota, executive orders, banning transgender athletes from participating in sports. Similar bills are currently awaiting signature or veto by governors in Montana and West Virginia, and could soon be enacted into law. With NCAA tournaments scheduled to take place in Alabama and Tennessee in less than three weeks, the time for concrete actions is now.

As I wrote to you last time, the number of anti-LGBTQ bills we are seeing in state legislatures across the country is unprecedented. And sadly, an unprecedented number are likely to become law. 2021 is poised to surpass 2015 as the worst year for anti-LGBTQ legislation in recent history. So far in 2021, 11 anti-LGBTQ bills have already been enacted, and another nine are already on governors’ desks awaiting signature. If these bills are enacted into law, it would mean that states will have enacted more anti-LGBTQ laws this year than in the last three years combined.

This is a national crisis, and one that necessitates united action, including from the NCAA. In sanctioning states that enact blatantly discriminatory laws in violation of NCAA policy, the NCAA will not only be standing on the right side of history, it will also be putting itself squarely in line with the overwhelming majority of the American people. A poll released on April 16 made clear that the vast majority of Americans, including a majority of Americans in all political parties, oppose legislation limiting the rights of transgender student athletes.

We appreciate the NCAA’s past and present leadership, including its most recent statements. But there is more that must be done because the lives of young LGBTQ people are on the line.

And to be clear, people are already dying. These bills are further fueling the stigma that is driving a wave of anti-trans violence devastating our community. So far in 2021, we are on track to more than double the number of trans and gender non-conforming people killed in 2020, which was already the deadliest year on record.

With the NCAA’s commitment to safety, how can holding tournaments in these states possibly keep student-athletes safe? The only way forward to protect the people the NCAA works so hard to serve is by sanctioning the states fueling hate and violence against our community.

Thank you again for continuing to be in dialogue with me about this issue. Please do not hesitate to reach out to me with any questions. My staff and I stand ready to assist with any information and to support the work ahead.

Alphonso David

President of the Human Rights Campaign

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