A person backlit by the sun makes a shape of a heart with their fingers while standing beneath a rainbow flag.
The city of Charlotte has joined the growing list of progressive North Carolina cities that have enshrined housing and employment protections for LGBTQ residents Monday. The victory goes a long way toward reversing the damage of HB2 and other anti-LGBTQ legislation that have given the state a black eye in years past. (Beáta Angyalosi, EyeEm / Getty Images)

Charlotte, NC leaders expanded the city’s housing and employment protections for LGBTQ residents. Advocates, while ‘ecstatic,’ are ready to push for more.

“Ecstatic.”

That’s how Erin Barbee, policy and advocacy head for the Carolinas LGBTQ+ Chamber of Commerce, described her reaction to Monday’s LGBTQ inclusions in the nondiscrimination ordinance of North Carolina’s largest city. 

Barbee’s organization launched in 1992 to offer a safe space for LGBTQ business owners in Charlotte. Supporters of the expanded nondiscrimination ordinance, which Charlotte City Council passed unanimously Monday, are hoping it does just that.

“The passage of this ordinance makes it very clear that we belong and we have protection. This is another step forward in our continued fight for equity and inclusion,” Barbee told Cardinal & Pine. 

The new ordinance protects residents and visitors from discrimination based on their sexual orientation, gender identity, natural hair, veteran status, pregnancy, and more. 

Erin Barbee, of the Carolinas LGBTQ+ Chamber of Commerce, said ‘I didn’t know how much emotion I would feel when the City Council voted yes unanimously to the expanded non-discrimination ordinance.’ She called the win ‘an incredible day for Charlotte.’

It covers housing and employment, notably prohibiting discrimination from all employers, including small businesses with less than 15 employees. The expanded ordinance goes into operation Oct. 1, with unemployment protections taking effect Jan. 1, 2022.

It is significant in a historically moderate state that has see-sawed in the last decade between headline-grabbing anti-LGBTQ and pro-LGBTQ laws and ordinances.

A Major Pivot in North Carolina

Dozens of speakers showed up to the Monday night public hearing in Charlotte. Most, including the business community, mental health experts, and veterans, expressed support for the measure. 

The vote was a 180-degree pivot from 2016, when the Council’s first nondiscrimination ordinance triggered the Republican-led NC General Assembly to pass HB2

The infamous “bathroom bill” was packed with anti-LGBTQ measures, including a requirement that transgender people use facilities that misaligned with their gender identity. The law made North Carolina the face of legislative intolerance and cost the state an estimated $3.76 billion in revenue as companies canceled events and contracts. 

HB2’s repeal in 2017 also included a controversial “sunset provision” with a three-year ban on local nondiscrimination ordinances that expired in December 2020.

HB2 wasn’t the first mega-controversial move led by North Carolina’s Republican-led legislature. In 2011, the GOP voted to place a constitutional amendment on the ballot banning same-sex marriage. Voters in NC overwhelmingly approved the amendment in 2012, but a federal court overturned it as discriminatory in 2014.

The federal Equality Act, if passed, would cover gender expression and orientation as protected classes. The bill passed the House but lingers in the Republican-led Senate.

Monday’s vote puts Charlotte in the company of Durham, Asheville, Chapel Hill, Carrboro, Apex and Hillsborough, all of which passed their own NDOs with LGBTQ-inclusive protections.

“We will continue to hold our city and our elected officials to their promise of enforceable penalties for those that discriminate. This is good for Charlotte and good for business,” Barbee said.

The LGBTQ Chamber is hosting a community gathering to debrief the public on the vote, thank city council members, and review next steps tonight at 7 p.m. at NoDa Brewing Company.