After an unsuccessful push for LGBT-inclusive protections for state and public workers in Viriginia, advocates in North Carolina say they hope to raise awareness and build support for similar legislation in the Tar Heel State.

On Feb. 8, the Virginia Senate passed measures protecting state employees on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity. If successful, the bill would have prohibited discrimination against LGBT workers as well as on the basis of race, color, religion, national origin and sex, among other characteristics. The bill was voted down in a House of Delegates subcommittee on Feb. 9.

One Senate Republican had broken ranks with his party and joined 22 Democrats in voting for the measure, passing 23 to 17. The movement on the issue this month follows an on-going debate over former Govs. Tim Kaine’s and Mark Warner’s inclusion of sexual orientation in their executive orders on state employment. Current Republican Gov. Bob McDonnell has not issued a differing executive order but had battled with Kaine on his policy. He said Kaine didn’t have the authority to include sexual orientation and that the issue should be dealt with by the legislature.

Statewide LGBT advocacy group Equality North Carolina (ENC) has put state employment protections on the top of their agenda this year. The group is riding high after a successful initiative to pass an LGBT-inclusive anti-bullying law last year. North Carolina does not currently prohibit public or private sector employment discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation or gender identity. The proposed, federal Employment Non-Discrimination Act would extend protections to both public and private employees.

Rebecca Mann, ENC’s director of community organizing and outreach, told qnotes it isn’t likely a state employee non-discrimination bill could be passed this year. The legislature will convene this May for their “short session.” Mann said legislative rules make it difficult to hear bills that failed to make the crossover deadline last year.

“The non-discrimination bill that was filed in 2009 is not eligible for reconsideration in this year’s short session unless two-thirds of a given chamber votes to bring it back,” she said in comments via email. “If we could count on garnering that type of overwhelming support, it would already be law.”

Mann said the best shot at passing a new law will come in 2011. The organization will be working hard through the end of 2010 to build the support needed for that push next year.

“Since employment non-discrimination bills have been run in past sessions, we have been building support for fair employment policies both at the General Assembly and in communities throughout our state for years,” Mann said. “Across our state, many North Carolinians do not know that their friends and neighbors can be fired based on their actual or perceived sexual orientation or gender identity, so much of what we’re asking supporters to do is simply raise awareness in their communities of this fact. As with anything, a big part of winning equality is education. So we will be at Prides, community festivals, speaking engagements, and educational events throughout the year to speak out about this important topic.”

ENC’s annual Day of Action will take place on May 25. Mann said the event is an opportunity for citizens “to impress upon their legislators just how much legislation promoting fair employment policies means to them—and to the future of our state.”

The organization’s employment focus this year will be boosted by several year-end grants. ENC is set to receive a two-year grant of $90,000 from the Tides Foundation’s State Equality Fund. Those monies, provided through a partnership by the Evelyn and Walter Haas, Jr. Fund, the Gill Foundation and anonymous donors, will go toward the group’s efforts to secure comprehensive anti-discrimination laws. In addition, ENC also received a $15,000 grant from the Triangle Community Foundation to support communications and community organizing work on similar issues in the Raleigh, Durham and Chapel Hill area.

Two employment non-discrimination bills were introduced in the North Carolina legislature in 2009. The Senate’s version would have amended the State Personnel Act to include sexual orientation and gender identity. The House’s version would have extended employment protections to public school teachers as well. Both bills died in committee.

Some municipalities across the state have passed LGBT-include employment policies. Thirteen city and county governments prohibit discrimination based on sexual orientation and four of those also include gender identity. The state’s largest city, Charlotte, has yet to pass such inclusive policies.

qnotes has repeatedly reached out to Gov. Bev Perdue’s press office for her position on state and public employee protections. Press spokespeople have yet to return our requests for comment.

Matt Comer

Matt Comer previously served as editor from October 2007 through August 2015 and as a staff writer afterward in 2016.