Metro Weekly

Three North Carolina cities pass LGBTQ nondiscrimination ordinances

Pro-LGBTQ laws are the first passed since a 2017 moratorium imposed as part of repealing the HB 2 "bathroom bill"

Orange County Courthouse in Hillsborough, N.C. – Photo: Warren LeMay, via Wikimedia.

Three North Carolina municipalities have passed ordinances that include protections for sexual orientation and gender identity, the first three to do so following a nearly four-year moratorium on such laws.

The moratorium was imposed as part of a “compromise” measure (between Republican lawmakers and newly-elected Democratic Gov. Roy Cooper) to repeal North Carolina’s infamous HB 2 — known colloquially as the “bathroom bill” — which sought to bar transgender people from using facilities that do not match their assigned sex at birth in publicly-owned or government buildings. 

The law’s passage in 2016 ignited controversy, prompting boycotts of the state, cancellations of major conferences and concerts, scuttled expansions of major businesses that would have brought in new employees who would have contributed to tax rolls and spent money supporting local businesses, and the relocation of several collegiate-level and professional-level sporting events from the state in protest.

According to Forbes, the state lost out on $630 million in business just during 2016 due to the law, and a separate analysis by The Associated Press estimated that North Carolina likely lost out on close to $3.76 billion in what would have been additional revenues between 2017 and 2028 due to the law.

As part of the repeal measure, lawmakers agreed to repeal the text of HB 2 and the section of state law created by the bill. But it contained two key provisions: a nearly-four year prohibition on local cities and county governments passing LGBTQ-inclusive ordinances that deal with employment, housing, or access to non-restroom public accommodations; and language that prevents any locality from passing regulations regarding multiple occupancy restrooms, showers, or changing facilities without the express consent or approval of those regulations by the General Assembly.

Given the likelihood of Republican control over the General Assembly for the few decades (due to political realignment), that means it is highly unlikely that North Carolina will have any law that expressly allows transgender people to use restrooms matching their gender identity in publicly-owned buildings. Private establishments may choose to create their own policies regarding bathroom use.

Following the expiration of the imposed moratorium on Dec. 1, 2020, several North Carolina municipalities announced plans to pass ordinances similar to those that had existed prior to being repealed by HB 2.

The ordinances would protect LGBTQ people — as well as veterans, racial, ethnic and religious minorities, peoples with disabilities, and pregnant individuals — from discrimination in employment, housing, and public accommodations, like restaurants or non-religious businesses that open themselves up to the public for commerce. 

Last week, Hillsborough became the first city to pass such an ordinance, followed by Carrboro and Chapel Hill. Both the Hillsborough and Carrboro ordinances impose a $500 penalty for anyone who violates the ordinance, and imposes that penalty for every day that the alleged discrimination continues without being remedied.

See also: Lesbian couple turned away by North Carolina wedding venue

Officials in Orange County — which contains all three municipalities — and the nearby city of Durham, are also expected to pass similar ordinances this week. The Greensboro City Council, in the central part of the state, is expected to debate a similar ordinance over the next month, according to NBC News.

“With the backdrop of so much pain this week, North Carolinians have amazingly stepped up and demonstrated that our state is a beautiful place to be LGBTQ,” Kendra Johnson, the executive director of Equality North Carolina, said in a statement. “For too long, North Carolina has lagged behind the rest of the nation when it comes to protecting LGBTQ folks and creating a culture where our most vulnerable can thrive. The tides are changing, and we hope other cities and towns across our state will be encouraged by these victories and do the right thing for their own citizens in the weeks ahead.”

North Carolina currently has no statewide law protecting LGBTQ people from discrimination, although Cooper has issued an executive order prohibiting discrimination in public employment and by state agencies that provide government services.

The U.S. Supreme Court recently found that LGBTQ employees are protected from discrimination under the Civil Rights Act of 1964, but those protections don’t apply to people who work at small businesses with fewer than 15 employees.

The local ordinances, however, seek to protect those people not covered by the court’s decision from being hired or fired without cause because of their sexual orientation or gender identity.

Allison Scott, the director of policy and programs at the Campaign for Southern Equality, called the passage of the three ordinances “heartening” and praised them for rejecting “the politics of division.”

“These ordinances not only establish concrete, clear protections from discrimination but also send a message that everyone deserves respect, dignity, and equality,” Scott said in a statement. “We applaud the leadership of these lawmakers and cheer on the momentum that these ordinances signal for LGBTQ North Carolinians across the state.”

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