Mecklenburg County commissioners say they’ll consider adopting an LGBTQ+ nondiscrimination policy.
After the controversial state law, called House Bill 142, sunset in December last year, Orange County became the first North Carolina county to pass nondiscrimination protections this week, following several North Carolina cities that have recently done the same.
Statewide advocacy organization Equality North Carolina has been leading the charge, and met with most county commissioners this week, representatives told the Observer.
Commissioner Susan Rodriguez-McDowell said the board is just starting the process of adopting nondiscrimination measures but said they’d first like to hear from the community and conduct more research.
“We’re just gathering up information about what has already passed in other places and trying to decide what kind of things we’d like to include,” she said. “It is on our agenda for February 2. That’s when we’ll have something to offer.”
It’s not clear yet whether they’ll pass a resolution, which is similar to a proclamation, or an ordinance, which would be enforced, or both. Chairman George Dunlap told the Observer a resolution is being developed, which could be discussed during the board’s first meeting in February.
“I haven’t heard from anyone on the board who is not in support,” Rodriguez-McDowell said. “I think this is something that our board is happy and pleased to be able to do.”
Commissioner Mark Jerrell said though he still had some questions that needed to be answered, he said it’s important the board of county commissioners moves to protect its LGBTQ+ residents.
“It’s really important for us to have policies in place that really reflect the values that we want exhibited in our community,” he said. “It sends a specific signal inside the community as well as outside the community that we’re welcoming, tolerant and respectful and appreciative of all our residents.”
Jerrell said the next steps are discussing what the goals of the nondiscrimination policy would be and getting advice from the county attorney about how far it can reach.
“I would like to think that it’s possible to pass something soon, but soon is relative,” he said. “We’re not trying to put words on paper with no enforcement or action.”
He said it was important to him that natural hair protections be included in Mecklenburg County’s nondiscrimination measures, which would prohibit Black people from being discriminated against for wearing natural hairstyles, like dreadlocks or braids. Durham and Greensboro both passed nondiscrimination ordinances that included those protections earlier this week.
“I definitely am interested in that. I do think we should be as comprehensive as possible,” he said. “I think we should take the language and really review the language that came from and has been enacted in other counties and municipalities.”
The Charlotte City Council has made no public indication that it is considering passing similar measures.
Cameron Pruette, president of the LGBTQ Democrats of Mecklenburg County, is working with Equality NC to expand the movement to pass nondiscrimination measures in Charlotte. He fears their inaction might be due to the backlash they received in 2016.
In 2016, the Charlotte City Council moved to expand its nondiscrimination ordinance to include LGBTQ+ protections, prohibiting local businesses from discriminating against gay or transgender residents and allowed transgender people to use whichever gendered public bathroom they identified with.
The Charlotte ordinance was followed by Republicans in the N.C. General Assembly introducing House Bill 2, or HB2 (which some refer to as a “bathroom bill”).
Signed into law, HB2 discriminated against transgender people and required them to use bathrooms in government buildings that corresponded with the gender on their birth certificate — not the gender they identify with. It also prohibited the local adoption of anti-discriminatory protective policies at the municipal level, and subsequently overrode Charlotte’s ordinance.
HB2 was later replaced with HB142, which allowed the ban of municipal protective policies to expire in December 2020, though still permanently allowed state legislators governance over public bathrooms.
Alison Kuznitz contributed.