Despite new state laws, Carrboro and Chapel Hill score high on LGBTQ+ rights

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By Fraser Sherman

A national group has given Carrboro high marks for their LGBTQ+ policies, but the town can’t rest on its laurels, Mayor Damon Seils says.

“I think it will be important for the staff to continue reviewing the town’s policies each year to maintain our high rating,” Seils said in an email interview, especially given the multiple anti-gay and anti-trans bills the Republican-dominated state legislature passed this year.

Carrboro and Chapel Hill both scored 100 points on the Human Rights Campaign’s (HRC) Municipal Equality Index for 2023. Chapel Hill LGBTQIA+ liaison Matthew DeBellis said in a press release that he’s proud of the town’s score but the fight is not over: “In a time of many anti-LGBTQ laws being passed nationwide, it is more important than ever that we continue to work on combating those laws which hurt not just our queer family and friends, but the entire community.”

In the text accompanying the index, HRC says support for LGBTQ+ rights is practical as well as principled: “The Fortune 500 has long utilized inclusive workplace policies as proven recruitment and retention tools. Diversity and inclusion enhance an employer’s reputation, increase job satisfaction, and boost employee morale.”

This is the 12th year HRC has published its index. The 2023 report scores 506 municipal governments according to their laws and policies regarding sexual orientation and gender identity. The index’s test says the chosen cities include the 50 state capitals; the United States’ 200 largest cities; each state’s five largest municipalities; the cities with each state’s two biggest public universities; 75 cities with a high proportion of same sex couples; and 98 cities selected by HRC members and supporters.

Governments can score up to 100 points based on various factors, including:

  • Non-discrimination workplace policy.
  • Laws against discrimination in housing, employment and public accommodation.
  • Transgender-inclusive healthcare benefits.
  • Non-discrimination requirements for government contractors.
  • An LGBTQ+ liaison in city hall, and in the police department.
  • Reporting hate-crime statistics to the FBI.
  • Municipal leadership expressing public support for equality.

Although the maximum score is 100 points, the index allows 15 bonus points for things such as anti-bullying programs, openly LGBTQ+ leaders in city government and offering benefits to employees’ domestic partners. Both Chapel Hill and Carrboro lost five points since the 2022 index but made it up in flex points. The lost five points are due to a new state law banning gender-affirming medical care, including surgery and puberty blockers, for anyone under 18.

“For the first time in the history of the MEI, fewer cities are providing transgender-inclusive health benefits to municipal employees,” HRC’s Laurel Powell said in an email interview. “Cities such as Chapel Hill and Carrboro that offer these benefits are not able to actually provide health benefits to their municipal employees that include coverage for gender-affirming care.”

“The state’s anti-trans legislation has made our communities less safe and has made it harder for people – including town employees and their families – to access comprehensive health care when they need it,” Seils said. He added that this makes policy at the local level “to support the safety and well-being of everyone in our communities” that much more important.

Not every city in the area scored as well as Carrboro and Chapel Hill. Cary scored a 54; Raleigh scored 78; Durham scored 91. The scores for all 506 municipal governments are available online.

“Chapel Hill continues to be a leader in advancing LGBTQ+ equality in North Carolina,” Town Council member Karen Stegman said in the town’s press release. “As an LGBTQ+ elected official, ensuring equality and non-discrimination has been one of my top priorities. I have been heartened by the support of my colleagues on the Town Council who agree that when we talk about Chapel Hill as a welcoming community, we truly mean welcome to all.”

Fraser Sherman has worked for newspapers, including the Destin Log, the Pensacola News-Journal and the Raleigh Public Record. Born in England, he’d still live in Florida if he hadn’t met the perfect woman and moved to Durham to marry her. He’s the author of several film reference books and has published one novel and several short story collections.

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