The City Council in Charlotte, North Carolina, unanimously passed a nondiscrimination ordinance Monday night that protects LGBTQ residents from discrimination in many areas of life.
The measure adds sexual orientation, gender identity, gender expression, familial status, veteran status, pregnancy and natural hairstyle to the list of classes protected against discrimination. LGBTQ people and others will be protected from discrimination in public accommodations, passenger vehicles for hire and employment.
Most of the ordinance, including the public accommodation protections, take effect Oct. 1, while the employment provision takes effect Jan. 1, 2022.
Daniel Valdez, president of Charlotte Pride, said he's hopeful the rest of Mecklenburg County and other nearby towns and cities "will follow Charlotte's example."
“With the new protections passed tonight, Charlotte finally joins its peer cities in protecting LGBTQ residents and visitors to our city," he said in a statement Monday. "Tonight’s vote is a strong sign that Charlotte has finally turned a page in our decades-long fight for equality in our city."
Charlotte is now the 10th community in North Carolina to pass a nondiscrimination ordinance like this, joining Apex, Asheville, Buncombe County, Carrboro, Chapel Hill, Durham, Greensboro, Hillsborough and Orange County, according to the Campaign for Southern Equality, which promotes LGBTQ equality across the South.
The move marks a major turning point in the state: Five years ago, in February 2016, Charlotte passed a similar ordinance expanding its existing nondiscrimination protections to include LGBTQ people. The measure specifically allowed transgender people to use the bathroom that aligns with their gender identity as opposed to their sex assigned at birth.
A few weeks later, after conservative backlash, the North Carolina General Assembly held a special session to pass House Bill 2, also known as the "bathroom bill." The law blocked Charlotte's measure, and also blocked cities from passing their own nondiscrimination ordinances.
The law spawned national outrage and boycotts that were expected to cost the state billions in lost business. HB 2 was repealed in 2017 as part of a “compromise bill” that placed a statewide moratorium on municipalities passing nondiscrimination ordinances. That bill, HB 142, expired Dec. 1.
Allison Scott, director of impact and innovation at the Campaign for Southern Equality, said Monday that North Carolina Republican Sens. Richard Burr and Thom Tillis — who both voiced support for HB 2 years ago — should pay attention to communities' support for pro-LGBTQ policy.
“Leaders across North Carolina — including our U.S. Senators from NC — should look at what’s happening in our state: Communities are taking a stand to protect LGBTQ people from discrimination, which leads to safer, more inclusive places to live, work, and raise families," Scott said, according to a news release.
Though Charlotte's ordinance protects against discrimination based on gender identity and gender expression, it does not address bathroom accommodations.
In fact, Scott told NBC News in January that there's a clause in HB 142 that gives only the General Assembly the power to legislate bathrooms and public changing facilities.
“That’s why we still need a full repeal of 142,” she said at the time. “We know fully 67 percent of North Carolinians, a supermajority, believe that LGBTQ people should be protected from discrimination.”
Bethany Corrigan, executive director of Transcend Charlotte, a local group that advocates for trans and gender-diverse people, said Monday that the city's measure is still a win, "not only for the LGBTQ community, but for all Charlotteans."
"We are only as strong as the least protected, and this expanded ordinance is a milestone toward equality in the Queen City," they said, according to a news release.
Charlotte's expanded ordinance offers more discrimination protections to LGBTQ people than federal law. The House passed the Equality Act — sweeping federal legislation that would provide discrimination protections for LGBTQ people in many areas of life — in February, but it stalled in the Senate after a Senate Committee Hearing in March.
Charlotte's ordinance even offers more protection from employment discrimination than federal law does, despite the Supreme Court's landmark ruling last year that LGBTQ people are protected from employment discrimination under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act. That ruling only applies to employers with more than 15 employees, while Charlotte's measure will apply to all employers in the city, including those with fewer than 15 employees.
Rell Lowery, community outreach director for Charlotte Black Pride, said Monday's vote will hopefully make the city safer.
“Charlotte is the second most dangerous city in the country for transgender and gender-nonconforming people — especially Black transgender women," he said. Two Black trans women, Jaida Peterson and Remy Fennell, were killed in the city in the span of two weeks, and a disproportionate number of trans homicides take place in the Southeast.
"With today’s vote, the Charlotte City Council committed to making the city a safer place to live and work for LGBTQ people and people of color," Lowery said. "It is an important and long overdue full-circle moment, granting LGBTQ Charlotteans the legal protections that we always needed and deserved.”