In a post-HB2 world, Orange County, long a progressive bastion of NC, will lead the way.
Now that HB2’s anti-LGBTQ rules are officially dead in North Carolina, several Triangle local governments will be the first to pass new anti-discrimination ordinances, Cardinal & Pine has learned.
County and town leaders in Orange County—one of NC’s progressive centers—are expected to act next week on their new rules, which would ban discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation, gender identity, gender expression and other categories, county leaders said in a joint statement Friday.
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Anti-discrimination ordinances like these were prohibited until December, part of a three-year moratorium bundled into the state’s repeal of its mega-controversial “bathroom bill.”
“Having these types of non-discrimination ordinances at the local level is now allowed in 48 states,” Carrboro Mayor Lydia Lavelle said in a statement. “In 2020, the United States Supreme Court affirmed the rights of LGBTQ people to employment free of discrimination, and the North Carolina Court of Appeals recently ruled that LGBTQ residents have the right to be provided services the same as any other member of the public. Further, our Orange County voters have historically shown overwhelming support for the LGBTQ community. These proposed ordinances reflect the values of our communities.”
Lavelle was the first openly lesbian mayor in the state of North Carolina when she won election in 2013.
The ordinances will be rolled out in county government, as well as in town governments in Chapel Hill, Carrboro and Hillsborough. Other local governments are expected to follow suit in 2021.
[update] Members of the Durham City Council are also discussing their own LGBTQ protections, with plans to pass new rules as soon as Jan. 19.
Leaders characterized the new ordinances as a coordinated effort, led by LGBTQ elected leaders in Orange County such as Lavelle, Chapel Hill Council Member Karen Stegman, Hillsborough Commissioner Matt Hughes, and Carrboro Council Member Damon Seils.
The local governments are expected to introduce and discuss those new rules in virtual meetings next week.
Orange County leaders have a history of progressive action on LGBTQ equality, approving domestic partner benefits for town employees and domestic partner registries.
Local leaders have also been trailblazers among LGBTQ politicians. Former Carrboro Mayor Mike Nelson was the first openly gay mayor in North Carolina, and ex-Chapel Hill Mayor Mark Kleinschmidt was the third.
Officials said in their statement that the protections will cover services in places of “public accommodations,” including stores, hotels and any business providing goods or services on-premises. They also fill in anti-discrimination protections in federal law.
HB2 was approved in 2016 by the Republican-controlled state legislature. And while it was widely considered to be focused on transgender people, passing a ban on people using public restrooms not matching the gender on their birth certificate, it included a sweeping set of broad anti-LGBTQ rules.
Attached to the bill—which was introduced and approved in one day—was a ban on local non-discrimination ordinances like those Orange County governments are likely to approve. It also bundled non-LGBTQ measures, such as a ban on local wage ordinances.
Its passage sped an avalanche of protests and boycotts. The NBA pulled its All-Star Game out of Charlotte; the NCAA moved its regional tournament games elsewhere; and scores of businesses and entertainers canceled planned events or moves. In 2017, the Associated Press estimated NC’s economic toll of HB2 at more than $3.7 billion. The bill was repealed in 2017 under new Democratic Gov. Roy Cooper, although it included the controversial three-year moratorium.
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