HILLSBOROUGH, N.C. (AP/WNCN) — Tree North Carolina towns plan to take up ordinances to expand anti-discrimination protections to members of the LGBTQ community.
Hillsborough became the first to approve it Monday night. The town Board of Commissioners said it was important for people who visit and live in the town to feel safe.
The town attorney said the wording of the ordinance was specific and that he collaborated with town officials in Carrboro and Chapel Hill.
Town boards for the three Orange County communities have placed proposals on their agendas on successive nights. Carrboro’s council meets Tuesday and Chapel Hill’s on Wednesday.
Gay-rights groups say the ordinances, if enacted, would be the first approved since the General Assembly’s 3 1/2-year pause on such rules expired Dec. 1, 2020. These groups have urged their passage by towns and cities. The moratorium emerged from a compromise between Democratic Gov. Roy Cooper and Republican lawmakers to do away with the state’s 2016 “bathroom bill” related to transgender people.
The ordinances would make it unlawful within town limits for businesses to discriminate in employment and in offering goods and services to the public on the basis of sexual orientation, gender identity and other differences. Some proposals would subject violators to misdemeanors and fines.
“We collaborated with other elected officials throughout the county, and we really wanted to be in harmony, so that folks knew no matter where they went in Orange County they had a reasonable level of expectation and protection,” said Matt Hughes, a Hillsborough commissioner and one of several LGBT leaders in Orange County pushing to adopt the ordinances.
Hillsborough’s ordinance will bar discrimination in employment and in public accommodations, which includes places such as hotels and stores on the basis of “race, creed, color, sex, sexual orientation, gender identity or expression, national origin or ancestry, marital or familial status, pregnancy, veteran status, religious belief, age or disability.”
Violating the ordinance would be considered a class 3 misdemeanor and carries a fine of $500 per day that the discrimination occurs.
“I think folks need to know that when they violate in the law, in this case participate in discrimination, that there is a penalty,” said Hughes.
Tami Fitzergald, executive director of the NC Values Coalition, said even though the provision in the HB2 repeal bill has expired, the state constitution doesn’t grant the communities the authority to enact the ordinances.
“We certainly are going to be on the lookout for people who are adversely affected by these ordinances, both because of their free speech and because of their viewpoint,” she said. “House Bill 142 was supposed to be a compromise between the business community, the faith leaders and the equality crowd. And yet, those people in the equality crowd have decided to step over the line and violate the middle ground that was reached.”
Republican Sen. Phil Berger’s office declined to comment Monday. A spokesman for House Speaker Tim Moore (R) did not respond to a request for comment.
In an email, Dory MacMillan, spokesperson for Gov. Roy Cooper (D), wrote, “The Governor supports local efforts showing that North Carolina and its cities, towns and counties are places that value diversity and where everyone is welcomed.”