Despite legal roadblocks from the legacy of House Bill 2, the Town of Chapel Hill has recently received its highest score for municipal LGBTQ equality.
The report, which was released by the Humans Rights Campaign in late November, gave Chapel Hill a 78, one point behind Greensboro, which made the Town the second-highest scorer in the state.
Town Manager Maurice Jones said in a press release that recent changes in town policy, including the creation of a LGBTQ+ Resource Group, have contributed to the Town’s 6-point increase since 2018.
“Our goal is to make Chapel Hill the most inclusive community in the state of North Carolina, and the MEI report indicates we are heading in the right direction,” Jones said in the release.
A bill was passed in March 2017 that repealed HB2's infamous bathroom clause. However, the remainder of the bill, including the provision that municipalities can't pass nondiscrimination ordinances, is still law.
Although state law bans discrimination based on race, religion, color, national origin, age, biological sex and handicap, no legislation has been passed to address discrimination based on sexual orientation or gender expression.
UNC first-year Abdier Guadalupe said he believes that despite Chapel Hill’s efforts toward LGBTQ+ equality, this lack of protection is part of a trend.
“Years ago Chapel Hill was a very homophobic town, and so is a lot of North Carolina still,” Guadalupe said. “I think that the Council should definitely look back on its past, reflect on it and focus more on LGBT issues if they want to address them.”
Because of the nondiscrimination ordinance clause, no cities in the report from North Carolina were able to enact nondiscrimination laws specifically protecting LGBTQ+ individuals. Of the more than 80 cities to receive a perfect municipal equality report, none are in North Carolina.
UNC first-year Jonah Lawson also expressed his disappointment at the lack of protection for these groups.
“To have it in law would obviously be very important because that means that we’re protected by the authorities,” Lawson said. “So it’s not like we would have to worry about everybody in the society protecting LGBT people, because the government would be protecting us.”
Chapel Hill Mayor Pam Hemminger said despite the state law, efforts by the town to be more inclusive of LGBTQ+ individuals are reflective of the town’s principles. She cites the formation of the LGBTQ+ Resource Group as a step towards this equity.
“Doing that raised our score, but for us it was more about the outcome,” Hemminger said. “LGBT employees felt more empowered, they felt like they have a voice, and they’re putting that voice into action and we’re very, very proud of them.”
Hemminger said the Resource Group, which was made of Town employees, was created to propose LGBTQ+ equality measures to Town staff. She said the recently instituted projects including gender-inclusive bathrooms in Town buildings and adopting more gender-neutral terms in Town rhetoric.
No municipalities can pass nondiscrimination until the bill that amended HB2 expires in December 2020. Though Hemminger said the Town may not be able to improve its score until anti-discrimination laws are changed, she says she finds hope in the spirit of Chapel Hill.
“The visitor’s bureau has a new tagline, 'Chapel Hill, just do you,' and I think that speaks volumes as to who we are,” Hemminger said. “We want to support everyone’s right, have equal rights and be respectful of everyone’s right to be themselves.”
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