Charlotte City Council unanimously approved new anti-discrimination measures on Monday, ending the work that state lawmakers had blocked in passing HB2 and the ensuing national controversy five years ago.
A ban on such local anti-discrimination regulations expired last year. On Monday, Charlotte became the tenth ward – and by far the largest – to pass new safeguards.
“Now is the time,” Mayor Vi Lyles said in a pre-vote speech. “Charlotte, like many other cities in North Carolina, is committed to ensuring equal justice.”
State law still prevents local governments from regulating bathroom or dressing room access through local ordinance, the part of Charlotte’s ordinance that Republican lawmakers put in place five years ago when HB2 was passed. But the new safeguards create a new definition of “protected class,” which includes race, color, gender, religion, ethnicity, disability, family and veteran status, pregnancy and natural hairstyles. It also includes sex and expands its definition to include sexual orientation, gender identity, and gender expression.
Advanced protections include sexual orientation, gender identity, gender expression and marital status in rental vehicles, city’s commercial non-discrimination policies, public housing and employment.
Employment protection has been a central point in the discussion on new and expanded anti-discrimination regulations. Nine other cities or counties have passed such protections, including Apex, Asheville, Buncombe County, Carrboro, Chapel Hill, Durham, Greensboro, Hillsborough, and Orange Counties. But as the largest city in the state and home to some of its largest corporations, Charlotte’s new safeguards will have an even bigger impact.
“Tonight is a win, not just for the LGBTQ community but for all Charlotteans,” said Bethany Corrigan, executive director of Transcend Charlotte, in a statement Monday evening.
“We are only as strong as the least protected, and this expanded ordinance marks a milestone towards equality in the Queen City,” Corrigan said. “We applaud the city council for their bipartisan collaboration in passing this comprehensive ordinance and honor the lawyers who have tirelessly made sacrifices for this moment.”
Kendra Johnson, Executive Director of Equality NC, said the vote shows undeniable momentum for protecting LGBTQ people.
“Small towns, medium-sized towns, counties, and now the largest city in North Carolina have all taken steps to protect LGBTQ people and show NC is ready for that protection nationwide,” Johnson said in a statement late Monday.
Daniel Valdez, president of Charlotte Pride, said he hoped this move in the state’s largest city will inspire other communities.
“After the new safeguards were passed tonight, Charlotte is finally joining her peer cities in protecting LGBTQ residents and visitors to our city,” Valdez said in a statement following the local council vote on Monday. “Tonight’s vote is a strong sign that Charlotte has finally opened a page in our decades-long struggle for equality in our city. We hope that the Mecklenburg district and other cities in the region will follow Charlotte’s example. “
It is not yet clear how Charlotte will enforce the new safeguards. Before the majority of the expanded ordinance comes into force on October 1, the city’s budget and effectiveness committee will prepare recommendations for consideration by the entire council 1.
Allison Scott, director of Impact & Innovation at Campaign for Southern Equality, said it was time for lawmakers outside of local communities to get involved in creating and enforcing anti-discrimination policies.
“Executives across North Carolina – including our US Senators from NC – should take a look at what’s happening in our state,” Scott said in a statement Monday. “Communities take a stand to protect LGBTQ people from discrimination, which leads to safer, more inclusive places to live, work and raise families. Now is the time to ensure that no LGBTQ North Carolinian remains vulnerable to discrimination – and that requires action from elected officials at all levels of government.