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Will Mecklenburg pass LGBTQ+ protections? Some say resolution is first step.

LGBTQ Flag, file image
LGBTQ Flag, file image(Wikimedia Commons)
Updated: Feb. 1, 2021 at 5:06 PM EST
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CHARLOTTE, N.C. (The Charlotte Observer) - Mecklenburg commissioners are expected to vote Tuesday on an LGBTQ+ non-discrimination resolution, which some officials hope is the first step toward a local law.

The action is the first locally since the Charlotte City Council amended its non-discrimination ordinance to include LGBTQ+ protections in 2016 — and North Carolina lawmakers responded with House Bill 2, which nullified the Charlotte law.

A resolution drafted by Mecklenburg Board of Commissioners Chairman George Dunlap and Commissioners Mark Jerrell and Susan Rodriguez-McDowell calls for nondiscriminatory employment practices and equal treatment of all residents in public settings, and also includes non-discrimination protections for natural hair.

Paving the way for local measures is a sunset clause in the controversial House Bill 142 which replaced HB2. Part of the law expired in December, granting counties and municipalities across the state the power to pass LGBTQ+ non-discrimination protections.

Several localities, including Orange County and Durham, have already taken steps to protect their LGBTQ+ residents, with the help of statewide advocacy organization Equality North Carolina. Members of the organization met with county commissioners last week.

First, the board will consider a resolution. If it’s approved by a majority of members, county leaders then may discuss a local ordinance, which is comparably more binding and legally enforceable.

Rodriguez-McDowell said she wants an ordinance but others on the board might not feel the same.

“I certainly hope it will be approved tomorrow,” Commissioner Leigh Altman said. “I’ve not spoken to every board member, but I’ve spoken to quite a few, and I feel like there’s a lot of support. I’m encouraged and hopeful.”

Assuming the resolution passes, Altman said she is planning to make a motion to direct the county attorney to analyze what the board’s legal authority is. Altman said then, the board can have a debate and decide how to move forward.

It’s still not clear who would be governed by a prospective resolution or ordinance from the county, according to current representatives.

Following examples from the cities of Durham and Greensboro, the current draft language in Mecklenburg includes protections for natural hair, which would prohibit discrimination against Black people who wear their hair in protective or natural styles, such as cornrows, braids, and afros.

A draft of the resolution can be found on the county commissioners’ website under meetings and agendas.

“I hope that we’re able to show how we value all people and the inherent dignity that they all possess,” Rodriguez-McDowell said. “No one should be discriminated against in our county. I hope that’s what shines through.”

Mayor Vi Lyles, in a statement last week, said the city of Charlotte is working on expanding their non-discrimination ordinance to include LGBTQ+ protections.

“We will be meeting with LGBTQ+ community leaders and others in our community to discuss our specific ordinance language to ensure that everyone is protected and welcomed in our city,” she said. “We recognize this is an important issue and one City Council will be taking up in the coming months.”

Charlotte City Council expanded its existing non-discrimination ordinance to include LGBTQ+ protections in 2016, prompting backlash from the state legislature. Republicans in the N.C. General Assembly then introduced House Bill 2, which discriminated against transgender people, preventing them from using the bathrooms in government buildings that correspond with the gender they identify with. It also prohibited local non-discrimination policies.

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