The COVID-19 pandemic has shown the many challenges still faced by LGBTQ Americans and the reason for the non-discrimination ordinances and the passage of the Equality Act. Since many states began initiating reopening policies, it is 50% more likely for white LGBTQ people to have experienced a pay cut, compared to the general population. LGBTQ households are experiencing food insecurity with over a third having difficulty paying for usual household expenses. It hurt LGBTQ people of color even harder with many having work hours reduced at a much higher rate than white LGBTQ people and the general population, and they became unemployed at a much higher rate and experienced pay cuts that were 1.5 times that of the other two populations. The hardest hit population was transgender people, more than half of whom lost work hours in the pandemic no matter their race.
Also this year was the deadliest year for transgender, nonbinary and gender-nonconforming Americans. At least 50 have been killed in acts of violence, many of them being Black women. Three of them were in North Carolina while two were in Charlotte: Jaida Peterson, Remy Fennell, and Jenna Franks. The increase in violence tracks with the rise of the statements like Lt. Governor Mark Robinson’s church rant and the anti-trans bills. There are currently three anti-trans bills in committee that must be fought:
• SB 514 (Youth Health Protection Act): This bill seeks to limit medical treatments for transgender people under 21,
• SB 515 (Health Care Heroes Conscience Protection Act): This bill seeks to allow medical practitioners, health care institutions, and health care payers to discriminate based on their religious, moral or ethical beliefs or principals.
• HB 358 (Save Women’s Sports Act): This bill seeks to prevent transgender youth playing in sports.
There are several court cases of interest currently. The federal lawsuit Campos v. Cohen is challenging the North Carolina’s discriminatory policy requiring transgender individuals who want to obtain an accurate birth certificate to have “sex reassignment surgery.” The state lawsuit M.E. v. T.J. is at the N.C Supreme Court challenging the NC discriminatory law denying same-sex couples the right to obtain a domestic violence protection order, otherwise known as a Rule 50(B). Charlotte based Pauli Murray LGBTQ+ Bar Association along with Legal Aid of NC
and the NC Justice Center filed an Amicus Curiae brief in support of the Plaintiff-Appellee, M.E. supporting the ruling of the NC Court of Appeals ruling that Domestic Violence protection must apply equally to unmarried same-sex relationships.
The Judiciary has been very good with LGBTQ+ rights the last two years. A 2014 federal case found that a Charlotte Catholic school wrongfully fired a gay employee. In another federal case the Court upheld that North Carolina can be sued for state health plan for teacher’s and employee’s discriminatory anti-transgender provisions.
The new federal administration is also increasing awareness and enforcement of rights of the LGBTQ+ community not only within the courts. The Social Security Administration withdrew its appeals on several cases allowing all surviving same-sex spouses across the country who were barred from being married for at least nine months by discriminatory marriage bans to get social security survivor benefits. The Veteran Administration stated that servicemembers discharged from the military under Don’t Ask Don’t Tell (and the previous policy) for sexual orientation, gender identity or HIV status can get their discharge status upgraded so that they now receive full military benefits. Admiral Rachel Levine, MD became the first openly transgender federal official when she was confirmed as the nation’s Assistant Secretary of Health of the Department of Health and Human Services. At the start of the school year, three federal government agencies issued a joint statement to transgender youth. The message was clear that if a student is bullied for being transgender that the federal government will act on their behalf just like they will for all protected classes of people. Even President Biden honored the losses on Transgender Day of Remembrance in a statement: “This year, at least 46 transgender individuals in this country — and hundreds more around the world — were killed in horrifying acts of violence…Each of these lives was precious. Each of them deserved freedom, justice and joy.”
Even though the current federal government and the courts are increasing sexual orientation and gender identity rights, the state governments are pushing back in the same way as the State of North Carolina did when Charlotte passed the 2016 non-discrimination ordinance. Since the state moratorium was lifted in January, about 14 local governments in North Carolina have passed LGBTQ-inclusive non-discrimination ordinances. It started with the Town of Hillsborough on Jan. 11. The City of Charlotte passed its ordinance in August. It prohibits discrimination in employment even for companies with less than 15 employees, passenger vehicles for hire and procurement, and public accommodations based on sexual orientation, gender identity, gender expression and natural hairstyle. It also added veteran status, pregnancy and familial status. Mecklenburg County passed its ordinance in November and included housing.
The local government ordinances are necessary even after the Supreme Court case Bostock v. Clayton County ruled that “based on sex” included sexual orientation and gender identity as it relates to employment, because the federal government’s act covering public accommodations does not include the word “sex.” This prevents the court and federal governmental agencies from interpreting sexual orientation and gender identity in public accommodations like it can with employment, housing, education and any public funding such as some health care. The Equality Act and the Equal Rights Amendment are greatly needed to expand rights to all people no matter where they work, play, eat, drive, learn or live.
Cristal Robinson (she/her) is the attorney at Robinson Law who loves helping people with special education and employment disability and discrimination law, as well as business law and asset protection law. As a seasoned attorney, business owner, and educator, she is passionate about advancing the rights of neurodivergent and LGBTQ+ people and business owners. In addition to the rights of the neuroqueer community, she is also involved in helping many other diverse communities. Prior to Robinson Law, Cristal Robinson was a business owner of American Real Estate Services in Amarillo, Texas and a certified Montessori teacher. She has a Juris Doctor, Master of Business Administration, and Bachelor of Business Administration in finance. Outside of the office, Cristal Robinson enjoys watching her autistic son experience life, growing older with her autistic spouse, and figuring out her true self as a late in life diagnosed autistic professional. For more information, www.CristalRobinson.com.