Orange County Visionaries for a Just and Equitable World


By Laurie Paolicelli

Last week, three North Carolina municipalities — Hillsborough, Carrboro and Chapel Hill — passed ordinances protecting members of their LGBTQ communities from discrimination. They were the first non-discrimination ordinances in North Carolina since a provision in a state law barring such measures expired in December. That law had replaced HB2, which had been passed in 2016.

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 Carrboro’s Board of Aldermen at the time called a meeting to urge that the bill be repealed.

Gay elected officials championing anti-discrimination ordinances to protect LGBTQ residents (from left): Hillsborough Commissioner Matt Hughes, Chapel Hill Council Member Karen Stegman, Carrboro Council Member Damon Seils, and Carrboro Mayor Lydia Lavelle.

This is what progress looks like sometimes — not a splashy legislative vote or a landmark court decision, but a quiet acknowledgment that things are at least a little different now. The Orange County Board of County Commissioners and Durham City Council will likely pass similar non-discrimination ordinances this week.

The new local anti-discrimination ordinances address gaps in protection. The ordinances cover protections for services offered in places of “public accommodation,” including stores, hotels, and businesses that supply goods or services on the premises to the public or that solicit or accept the patronage or trade of any person. The ordinances also cover protections for employment not covered by federal law. The N.C. General Assembly retains control over the regulation of multi-occupancy bathrooms.

Historically, Orange County, Carrboro, Chapel Hill, and Hillsborough have been home to the most progressive LGBTQ policies in North Carolina and were among the first in the state to have domestic partner registries and to offer domestic partner benefits to employees. There have been nine LGBTQ elected officials in Orange County, including the first gay and lesbian mayors in North Carolina.

Carrboro Mayor Lydia Lavelle and her wife Alicia Stemper

Pauli Murray

“Hope is a song in a weary throat.” — Pauli Murray

The area’s progressive heartbeat was what drew the late Pauli Murray to Orange County, and it’s her legacy we celebrate this February as the Orange County Human Relations Commission is accepting nominations for the 31st Annual Pauli Murray Awards. The awards are presented to those who embody the attributes and spirit of Pauli Murray by encouraging diversity in the workforce, promoting and participating in community activities related to social justice issues, and demonstrating positive roles in human relations.

Before the word was even coined Dr. Pauli Murray was a pioneer in intersectionality. She eloquently addressed the ways her blackness, spirituality, feminism and queerness came together as one.

Murray celebrated many achievements, including being California’s first Black deputy attorney general, the first Black person to earn a Doctor of Juridical Science from Yale Law School, a co-founder of the National Organization for Women (NOW), and a professor at Brandeis University. At the age of 62 she entered New York’s General Theological Seminary in 1973 and became a priest. She celebrated her first Holy Eucharist at the Chapel of the Cross in Chapel Hill, NC — the same church where her grandmother, an enslaved person, was baptized.

Rev. Dr. Pauli Murray was the first African-American woman ordained to the Episcopal priesthood. In 2012, she was named to Holy Women, Holy Men by the 77th General Convention of the Episcopal Church and thus became an Episcopal saint. According to her entry, “Growing up as a mixed-race person in the South, [Murray] became an advocate of ‘the universal cause of freedom,’ and throughout her life she worked tirelessly and with distinction as a lawyer, an advocate for civil and labor rights and feminism through her legal writings, essays and poetry.”

Pauli Murray died on July 1, 1985 at the age of 74, but she has never left us. Her indefatigable spirit, and her belief in the sanctity and power of a single human voice is what animates us all to fight for the rights of all people, including the LGBTQ community.

The award given in her name is a testament to her presiding spirit and the belief that, as all of us hope it does, “the arc of the moral universe” does indeed “bend toward justice.”

2021 Pauli Murray Award

Nominations can be made online here.

Nominations for the 2021 Pauli Murray Award are due by 5 p.m. on Friday, February 12, 2021. Individual (over 18) and Youth (full-time student in grades 6-12 or a college student 18 or younger) nominees must reside in Orange County. Business nominees must operate or conduct business within Orange County. For additional information, contact the Human Relations Commission at (919) 245-2487 or

Less than 10 miles from Chapel Hill, in downtown Durham, is the The Pauli Murray Center for History and Social Justice is located at 906 Carroll St., Durham, NC 27701.

Laurie Paolicelli is the Executive Director of the Chapel Hill/Orange County Visitors Bureau.

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