A year ago, North Carolina saw a window of opportunity open. One prong of House Bill 142, the weakened successor to the infamous House Bill 2, expired once again, allowing local governments to pass ordinances to protect marginalized groups, including the LGBTQ community. With its sunset, cities, towns and counties could once again protect queer and trans people from discrimination in the workplace, in public goods and services and, where applicable, housing.
The remnants of HB142, however, still ban cities and counties from regulating multi-
stall restrooms and changing facilities, preventing more fully inclusive policies for trans and nonbinary folks.
Advocates and some elected officials jumped at the opportunity to advance LGBTQ equality all around the state. And since the beginning of 2021, a whopping 16 cities and counties have passed non-discrimination ordinances. This progress means that on Jan.1, 2021, North Carolina began a new year with zero local nondiscrimination protections for queer and trans folks, and will end it with a third of the population covered. Hillsborough was the first out of the gate on Jan. 11, 2021, and others quickly followed suit. Chapel Hill, Carrboro, Durham and Orange County came within days, and since then momentum has only been growing. All of NC’s five largest cities have passed such ordinances. And the vast majority added protections for natural hair, a first in the state, veteran status and pregnancy, among others.
The path hasn’t been without challenges. Four trans women were murdered in this state this year. Charlotte has been named the second most dangerous city for trans women of color. And even with that landscape, we frequently faced a chronic lack of political courage by some elected leaders afraid to challenge the status quo and others who just didn’t know why protections were needed. Some cities passed resolutions which do nothing to battle the discrimination experienced by members of the LGBTQ community. Still others chose to advance protections only in public accomodations, leaving many marginalized folks without access to the very jobs that would make it possible to enjoy public services and goods.
There are still many gaps in the protections on the federal level for LGBTQ people. We only gained marriage equality in 2015 and federal nondiscrimination protections in employment in 2020, with the Supreme Court’s Bostock vs. Clayton County ruling. But, Bostock doesn’t apply to businesses with fewer than 15 people, and the vast majority of employers are small businesses. Neither of those rulings prevent discriminatory evictions, violence or bias in lending. The lack of protections for LGBTQ people makes us so much more vulnerable–and particularly at the intersections of power and privilege. BIPOC, disabled, and poor LGBTQ people are more likely to be pushed out of the systems that should serve us. And these ordinances are the first step to closing these gaps and making life better for all LGBTQ people, especially those existing at these intersections.
These advances couldn’t have happened without the immense effort of advocates, regular everyday people and organizations all around the state who rolled up their sleeves. We’re incredibly thankful to be doing this work with the people we serve, who came together and made this moment possible.
We owe you all a tremendous debt of gratitude. These ordinances were hard fought battles. Many of these were the culmination of literal decades of work and they wouldn’t have happened without champions like you, who made this possible. For all the letters, backdoor conversations, cajoling, hand holding, speaking up at public comment and social media posts–we thank you! Wins like these make it clear what we can do when we are united and work to get pro-equality candidates in office. It changes all our lives. We look forward to a new year of passing more ordinances, getting the representation we need and, of course, working alongside the people we serve to make that happen!