Originally published: Jan. 5, 2015
Updated: Jan. 7, 2015, 8:17 a.m.

City Council members in Greensboro, N.C., unanimously passed several new ordinance changes at their meeting on Tuesday, making it the first city in the state to prohibit anti-LGBT discrimination in housing, among other protections. The city’s move toward more inclusive local policies follows similar proposals and discussion in Charlotte, the state’s largest city, though it has not yet scheduled a vote.

“It says we’re inclusive and welcoming,” Greensboro Mayor Nancy Vaughan said of the changes, according to The News & Record. “That’s what we want people to think of when they think of Greensboro.”

The changes in Greensboro include adding sexual orientation, gender identity and gender expression to a list of enumerated categories in three ordinances — fair housing, city employment and city services.

“The City of Greensboro prides itself on being open and inclusive for all residents and the changes proposed for Council consideration are designed to further strengthen the City’s efforts to prohibit discrimination,” Greensboro Mayor Nancy Vaughan said before the vote in a statement to qnotes on Monday. “I believe these changes not only continue to protect our current and future employees, but also take the extra step of acknowledging and protecting the civil rights of our residents and business owners who participate in City programs and receive City services.”

The state’s leading LGBT advocacy group has worked with city leaders and say they’re hopeful for a positive outcome on Tuesday.

“Equality NC has been working with members of Greensboro City Council, the Mayor, and local activists for some time now on these important updates to the city’s protections, specifically for LGBT Greensboro residents,” Equality NC Executive Director Chris Sgro said in a statement on Monday. “We are hopeful for broad support on council tomorrow evening, and believe that the City of Greensboro will stand with a supermajority of North Carolinians in supporting protections for LGBT citizens.”

Following the vote, Sgro stressed the importance of equal protections.

“There’s massive public support for protections in housing, protections in employment and protections in public accommodations,” Sgro said, according to The News & Record. “Most North Carolinians believe the protections already exist, but they exist in a surprisingly small number of municipalities across the state, and Greensboro becomes the first in the state to add those protections in terms of housing.”

Greensboro’s new protections

The first of the three new ordinance changes prohibit discrimination in the offering of city programs, services or activities. According to a memo to Council from City Attorney Thomas Carruthers, the proposal also directs the city manager to “conduct a review of all City facilities that contain restrooms, lockers, and changing rooms to evaluate the creation of a Privacy Restroom, Locker or Changing room that will be available for both individuals and families on a gender neutral basis.”

New private facilities would not change existing men’s and women’s facilities. The use of restroom facilities by transgender people has often provoked backlash against LGBT-inclusive non-discrimination measures, though most advocates say fears of abuse are unfounded and are often used as a scare tactic to delay or prevent votes.

The News & Record reports that Councilmember Tony Wilkins expressed concern over the cost of new restrooms and other accommodations. Vaughan said it won’t be difficult.

“A lot of our buildings already have family rest rooms or changing rooms,” Vaughan said. “This would just designate these spaces as gender neutral.”

The second change codifies LGBT-inclusive protections for city employees in the city’s ordinances. By policy, Greensboro already prohibits public employment discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation.

The final change alters the city’s fair housing ordinance, adding LGBT-inclusive protections to those meant to prohibit discrimination in the “buying, renting, selling, or advertising of real estate.”

The city attorney’s memo says the fair housing changes are consistent with new regulations suggested by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development.

“The City receives federal grant funds from the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) to enforce the City’s Fair Housing Ordinance and this amendment is supported by this agency,” Carruthers’ memo reads. “If approved by Council, HUD will review this amendments. HUD approval is expected; given these amendments align with HUD suggestions.”

Charlotte considering similar changes

The changes in Greensboro come as the state’s largest city, Charlotte, considers its own ordinance updates and revisions. In November, a coalition of organizations requested changes to several Charlotte ordinances.

Scott Bishop, chair of the Mecklenburg LGBT Political Action Committee (MeckPAC), presented Charlotte’s proposal in November. He said Monday the local coalition is still waiting on city staff to schedule its briefing with Council leaders before moving forward with a final vote. In addition to MeckPAC, other coalition members include Equality North Carolina, the Charlotte Business Guild, Genderlines, LGBT Democrats of Mecklenburg County, the ACLU-Charlotte and the Human Rights Campaign. (Click here to learn more about the Charlotte proposals.)

Charlotte’s and Greensboro’s planned ordinance changes differ in some ways. Unlike Greensboro, Charlotte won’t be tackling fair housing rules, and, unlike Charlotte, Greensboro won’t be changing their public accommodations ordinance, which offers protections in public spaces like restaurants and hotels.

“In Charlotte’s case, the fair housing ordinance is governed by the city charter, and that made it more difficult to change the ordinance without first going through the General Assembly,” Bishop said.

Equality NC says movement on local ordinances is just one step in a still-evolving set of goals following the legalization of same-gender marriage in North Carolina last fall. Couples, they have said, can be married, but are still liable to unfair discrimination in employment, housing and other areas.

“In the wake of marriage equality, there remains much work to be done to achieve full lived and legal equality for LGBT residents of the Tar Heel State,” Sgro said. “Protections in housing, access to public accommodations, and employment are among the most important pieces of that work. ENC is committed to working with other municipalities across North Carolina, as well as with the General Assembly, to protect LGBT folks from potential discrimination. Discrimination is plain wrong, and people across the state know it.”

“I’m proud,” Sgro, himself a resident of Greensboro, added, “that the City of Greensboro is considering protecting its residents against discrimination.”

A series of local ordinance changes could create an uneven patchwork of protections across the state — some cities offering protections in some areas and denying them in others. Ultimately,  only statewide action will create equal protections across the board.

“I think this is just a starting point,” Bishop said. “If Charlotte has its updates and then Greensboro and then another city does it, that might be the driver for the state to say it’s time to do something on the state level.”

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