By Nancy E. Oates
Chapel Hill became the third North Carolina municipality — and third in Orange County — to enact an LGBTQ nondiscrimination ordinance Wednesday night.
The vote by the Town Council passing the ordinance that broadly protects members of the LGBTQ community from discrimination comes during the same week Hillsborough and Carrboro passed similar ordinances.
“We have waited for the opportunity to take this important action to help ensure all who live, work and visit our community can do so free of discrimination based on who they are, what they look like, how they worship, or who they love,” said Chapel Hill Town Council member Karen Stegman. “This ordinance represents our town’s commitment to working towards a community that is free from individual and institutional discrimination, where all can thrive.”
The night before, Carrboro’s Town Council unanimously approved a similar ordinance protecting LGBTQ residents from discrimination. And on Monday night, Hillsborough became the first municipality in North Carolina to enact LGBTQ protections following the Dec. 1 expiration of a state ban on enacting such rules.
In Carrboro, the addition to the town’s public accommodations and employment anti-discrimination law makes it a Class 3 misdemeanor to deny goods and services or employment to anyone because of “race, natural hair or hairstyles, ethnicity, creed, color, sex, sexual orientation, gender identity or expression, national origin or ancestry, marital or familial status, pregnancy, veteran status, religious belief or non-belief, or disability.”
The U.S. Supreme Court affirmed similar protections for LGBTQ people in a decision last June. Carrboro’s new ordinance fills in the gaps by spelling out the protected categories and defining “employer” as a business with at least one employee.
The LGBTQ anti-bias ordinances have their roots in responses to a state law passed five years ago — HB2, the infamous “bathroom bill” that required people in state buildings to use the bathroom that matched the gender listed on their birth certificate. Carrboro’s board of aldermen at the time called a meeting to urge that the bill be repealed. The meeting had the highest public attendance ever, and people still thank council members for their support then, council member Sammy Slade said.
In 2017, HB2 was repealed and replaced with HB142, which removed the requirement about using a bathroom that matched one’s birth certificate. A provision in HB142 prevented local governments from imposing their own bathroom choice ordinance or any new non-discrimination law.
North Carolina is one of 49 states without any law on their books that dictate which bathroom one should use. Washington is the only state that explicitly allows transgender people to use the bathroom of their choice. Arkansas and Tennessee don’t allow local ordinances.
Carrboro already had an ordinance that required any contractor doing business with the town to have a non-discrimination policy. But it wasn’t clear whether HB142 would allow that to be enforced.
Council member Jackie Gist said that council members had received a form-letter email from more than 100 people who don’t live in Carrboro urging council members to “oppose the anti-religious liberty ordinance.”
At Tuesday’s meeting, Gist responded: “I want to speak for a moment as a Christian.”
She said, “Religious liberty to me … means liberty and freedom from religion as much as it means liberty and freedom to have religion.” Gist said she saw “the push to limit people’s faith and how they live it [as] really, really dangerous” and close to having a state-ordered religion.
“What we’re doing here is working toward a government that’s free from religion,” she said.
Gist quoted Matthew 22: 37-39 in the New Testament, in which Jesus tells his disciples that the greatest commandment after loving God is to “love your neighbor as yourself.” She cited Carrboro’s ordinance as in keeping with that teaching.
Addressing the people who sent the emails, she said: “I honor and respect your right to live your faith as you see fit. I only ask that you also honor and respect other people’s right to live their faith or a life without faith.”
Violators of the Class 3 misdemeanor can be fined $500 per day and be subject to a prohibitory injunction to correct the conduct. Carrboro chose those two methods of enforcements because state law already allows them.
But, Lavelle said, “We don’t expect to have folks violating it.”