Originally published: Dec. 13, 2012, 4:26 p.m.
Updated: Dec. 14, 2012, 8:04 a.m.
CHARLOTTE, N.C. — Members of a local lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) advocacy organization announced late Thursday afternoon that Charlotte City Manager Curt Walton has made the decision to add protections for transgender workers to the city’s non-discrimination policy.
The new addition, which takes effect immediately, will protect transgender workers and others who face discrimination on the basis of gender identity or expression.
The new city non-discrimination policy reads, “No employee or applicant for employment shall suffer discrimination because of race, religion, color, sex, national origin, sexual orientation, age, disability, political affiliation, or on the basis of actual or perceived gender as expressed through dress, appearance or behavior,” according to a Dec. 13 email from Walton to members of the Charlotte City Council.
Discrimination based on gender identity is already illegal, according to a decision made by the federal Equal Employment Opportunity Commission last year. That decision, says activists, ultimately led to Walton’s policy change today.
Scott Bishop, chair of the Mecklenburg LGBT Political Action Committee, or MeckPAC, told qnotes that he and other members of his group recently met with Walton to discuss the changes. The group was previously successful at convincing Walton to add “sexual orientation” to the same policy, a change the city manager made in April 2010.
Former City Attorney Mac McCarley, now retired, had previously opposed adding protections for gay and transgender workers. Even after sexual orientation was added to the policy, McCarley advocated against including protections for transgender workers.
“We are not recommending that you include ‘gender identity’ as a protected status,” McCarley’s 2010 memo to Walton read. “This is a relatively new term, has no recognized legal definition, and is highly subjective.”
McCarley also defended the city’s actions after a transgender worker sued claiming discrimination. The case was later settled.
None of the employment policy changes have been approved or reviewed by city council. Internal human resources policies are delegated to the city manager.
If other city procedures are going to change, however, the council will be forced to take the matters up for a public vote.
The city’s Commercial Non-Discrimination Ordinance currently requires businesses contracting to provide services for or with the city to show they do not discriminate in their employment practices. The ordinance currently does not include sexual orientation or gender expression.
Bishop says his group is aware of the ordinance.
“I’m not sure if the city council will vote on that but it is one of the items MeckPAC will likely pursue,” Bishop said.
Only the council can amend the ordinance.
Bishop said his group believes it is important that the city take a stand on issues that affect their constituents.
“It is important that they express how they stand on issues of importance to the LGBT community,” Bishop said.
How that is accomplished can vary. Recent policy changes by the city manager is but one way to make change.
“Is it always important that they [vote] on every specific issue? I don’t know if that is needed every single time,” Bishop said. “It all depends on which issue we are pursuing whether a public vote is more important than just enacting a policy for the betterment of citizens or employees.”
If the city council decides to amend its commercial ordinance and bring it in line with their own personnel policies, it will mark the first time in over two decades that the council has taken an up-or-down vote on a matter of LGBT equality. The last time they tried, in November 1992, the council voted down an expansion to public accommodations protections.
Charlotte’s protections for LGBT city workers are relatively recent.Charlotte was the last major city in the Carolinas to begin making changes when it adopted protections for gay workers in 2010. Other cities across the region have long offered some protections. Only a handful of others also offer protections for transgender employees.
This summer, Charlotte approved an annual budget which included extension of health and other benefits to same-sex partners of city employees.
Walton has announced he will be leaving his post at the end of the month.