The Supreme Court heard arguments on Oct. 8 in a case that would decide whether federal law prohibits discrimination by employers based on sexual orientation or gender identity.
But meanwhile, legislating anti-discrimination against LGBTQ+ individuals has been left to the authority of individual states.
North Carolina does not have laws protecting individuals from discrimination, and further does not allow municipalities and local governments to pass such regulations either. This was one of the provisions of the infamous House Bill 2, or “bathroom bill,” which was maintained as part of HB2’s partial repeal in 2017.
The provisions will remain part of state law until Dec. 1, 2020.
However, Democratic state lawmakers introduced a trio of legislation in March that would have provided very comprehensive protections at the state level for North Carolina residents against discrimination based on sexual orientation or gender identity.
These bills have not moved out of the House Rules Committee, except HB 516, which was sent to the House Health Committee on Apr. 1 but has not had any action taken since. None of the bills has had a committee hearing, said Ames Simmons, the policy director at EqualityNC.
Simmons said the only protection for LGBTQ+ people in North Carolina is through federal government policy that allows them to file complaints at the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission if they believe they have been discriminated against in the workplace.
“At least until the Supreme Court rules, and depending on how that ruling comes out, they will continue to be able to press claims based on sexual orientation or gender identity under Title VII’s prohibition on discrimination on the basis of sex,” Simmons said.
Simmons said although local governments and municipalities cannot pass anti-discrimination regulations, they are allowed to enact anti-discrimination policies for public employees under their jurisdiction.
“We need to pass the Equality Act at the federal level, to confirm that federal law would include these protections,” Simmons said. "And I think especially if there were a uniform national law, it would send a very powerful message to employers regardless of what state they operate in."
The Equality Act is a bill passed by the U.S. House of Representatives that would prohibit discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity.
On the local level, both Chapel Hill and Carrboro have policies that prohibit discrimination against LGBTQ+ public employees.
Damon Seils, an openly gay member of the Carrboro Board of Aldermen, said the town wants to be able to develop its own anti-discrimination policy and will be ready when the state ban on such policies ends.
“I think there’s an opportunity for us in Carrboro to work with our partners in other local jurisdictions around the state to be planning ahead for the day when we are able to pass local nondiscrimination ordinances,” Seils said.
Seils said he wants Carrboro to set an example for other local governments with anti-discrimination policy, citing the town’s early call for the repeal of HB2.
“When we called for the repeal of HB2, one of our goals in doing that, and one of the things that Mayor Lavelle and I worked very hard on, was giving other cities and towns and counties around the state of North Carolina to join us in calling for that repeal, and many of them did,” Seils said.
Carrboro Mayor Lydia Lavelle, who is also openly gay, said the town uses a variety of measures to promote non-discrimination for LGBTQ+ people despite not being able to have a comprehensive policy.
“We try to contract with or partner with only agencies that also have inclusive non-discrimination ordinances,” Lavelle said.
Lavelle also said the town only gives grants to nonprofit organizations that have non-discrimination policies.
To ensure that local governments are able to pass comprehensive ordinances, Lavelle said next year’s elections will be important as Democrats attempt to retake the General Assembly and retain the governorship, and the presidential race is on the ballot.
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