CHARLOTTE, N.C. — Mecklenburg County has passed the first non-discrimination resolution since House Bill 142 (HB142), which was created in response to House Bill 2 (HB2, also known as the “bathroom bill”). Instead of addressing the fallout from HB2, Gov. Roy Cooper signed into law the aforementioned HB142. This bill made it so that local governments (including the city of Charlotte) would be unable to regulate any sort of public accommodation or employment practice for any unprotected class. Beyond LGBTQ individuals, this ordinance also negatively affected veterans, unmarried adults and the elderly. After three-and-a-half years, the ordinance recently expired in December 2020.
The commission resolution, published by Mecklenburg County on Feb. 2, has striven to make up for these past restrictions. However, this is not the finished product. It is a resolution pointing to future ordinances rather than the ordinance itself. The towns of Hillsborough and Carrboro passed new non-discrimination ordinances on Jan. 11 and Jan. 12 respectively. These were the first two municipalities to pass such ordinances since the expiration of HB142.
Carrboro has been planning on passing this non-discrimination ordinance since the conception of HB2 five years ago. Their town ordinance extends to managers and employers and includes the following protected identifications: race, hairstyles, ethnicity, color, sex, national origin, marital status, pregnancy, age, disability, sexual orientation, gender expression and gender identity. The purpose of protecting both gender identity and gender expression is to ensure that employees are not only having their pronouns respected, but that they are also able to wear attire that aligns most similarly to their gender or lack thereof. This ordinance also outlines the consequences for those who disregard the mandate: the perpetrator of discrimination can be found guilty of a Class 3 misdemeanor and will be charged $500. These penalties have not typically been outlined in the past, however, Carrboro Mayor Lydia Lavelle states that the presentation of their negative impact will de-incentivize discriminatory behavior.
Meanwhile, Charlotte, N.C. Mayor Vi Lyles, working in tandem with Equality North Carolina Policy Director Ames Simmons, has been working on a similar ordinance for the City of Charlotte. The Mecklenburg County Commission resolution aimed to expand upon, and add to, protected groups. These protections would extend to those who identify as LGBTQ, those who practice any religion and those who utilize hair care products and hair styles outside of the social norm. Lyles has not, however, made any indications as to what the punishment for such discrimination may be.
As the Mecklenburg County Commission resolution stands, only government and taxpayer-funded programs will have to adhere to these forthcoming regulations. Both the county resolution and the Charlotte ordinance will strive to include public accommodations, such as hotels, in their lists of regulated areas. Many supporters (primarily LGBTQ community members and allies) of this resolution claim that it is a welcome gesture, but nothing more. The Mecklenburg County Commission non-discrimination resolution does not allow for any enforceable protections. In this way, it cannot be well-likened to the Hillsborough or Carrboro town ordinances. Mecklenburg County does not have the power, nor the reach, necessary to directly impact ordinances for each county. Additionally, the county resolution does not mention HB2. It does, however, include data regarding anti-LGBTQ discrimination as recently as June 2020. Data is one of the major missing pieces of Lyle’s proposed City of Charlotte ordinance. Lyle claims that there have not been sufficient studies completed within the parameters of Charlotte’s public accommodations in order to present an inclusive picture of Charlotte’s anti-LGBTQ discrimination.
The Mecklenburg County non-discrimination resolution was passed unanimously. Several members of the board (Susan Rodriguez-McDowell, Leigh Altman and George Dunlap) also made it clear that they would be consulting with the Mecklenburg County attorney for legal advice. This motion was made by Commissioner Leigh Altman, who has spoken out about the commission’s plan to make their resolution into a county-wide ordinance. This ordinance, as with the Charlotte ordinance, has been delayed due to lack of information including demographic and legal evidence. No specific timeframe has been given for either the Charlotte or the Mecklenburg County ordinances, but leaders within each group have stated that more inclusive changes will be implemented before the end of 2021.
For now, the newly-passed Mecklenburg County Commission non-discrimination resolution will have the ability to deter discrimination against any of the previous protected groups by any governmental institution or agency. Public accommodations such as hospitals, shopping malls, government buildings, amusement parks and movie theatres will no longer be able to refuse service, or employment, to any persons protected by the Mecklenburg County resolution.
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