The Raleigh City Council and Wake County Board of Commissioners are poised to adopt a long-awaited nondiscrimination ordinance protecting the rights of LGBTQ+ residents, among others.
The council, particularly Mayor Mary-Ann Baldwin, came under fire earlier this year for deciding to wait to adopt non-discrimination ordinances after a previous state law pre-empitively banning municipalities from adopting new policies expired in December. At the time, Baldwin said she wanted to see how litigation against policies adopted by other municipalities played out.
Wake County, not Raleigh, will take the lead on the initiative at the board’s Monday work session, while the City Council is poised to opt in to the county’s policy at its October 19 meeting, County Board Chair Matt Calabria told the INDY and Raleigh City Councilor Jonathan Melton confirmed. The draft ordinance, which was provided to the INDY, gives victims legal recourse in the event of discrimination, among other protections.
Melton said he’s been working with Equality NC to draft the policy for the better part of the year.
“You can drive into downtown Raleigh and there are so many murals up that say “Y’all Means All” and I think it’s important our policies reflect those statements as well,” Melton told the INDY. “As a gay man, knowing I can go out with my fiancé and not be worried about having no recourse if I’m discriminated against, or my friends and family [are], that’s really important.”
Calabria said the delay in the ordinance was in part due to the pandemic, which has been a drain on county and city government resources.
“There was no interest in delaying it for delay’s sake,” Calabria said. “I think we would have taken this up earlier had it not been for COIVD-19.”
At the start of 2021, there were no municipal protections for nondiscrimination, said Kendra Johnson, executive director for Equality NC. By the year’s end, a third of North Carolina’s population is expected to be protected by such local ordinances.
“This is really a great day that we’re going to have the most populous city and county coming on board with nondiscrimination ordinances because too many people have lacked critical protections around their race, including natural hairstyles, gender identity and expression, and their gender orientation for far, far too long,” Johnson told the INDY. “No one can control their race, gender identity, or sexual orientation and they shouldn’t be discriminated against in the workplace or while accessing services or goods based on things they can’t control.”
The ordinance states that all people should be free from discrimination “based on race, natural hair or hairstyles, ethnicity, creed, color, sex, pregnancy, marital or familial status, sexual orientation, gender identity or expression, national origin or ancestry, marital or familial status, pregnancy, National Guard or veteran status, religious belief or non-belief, age, or disability.” Complaints regarding discrimination should be filed to the county within 90 days of the alleged act. Following an investigation, the county will seek to reconcile the situation with both parties. If such conciliation cannot be reached, those in violation “may be subject to enforcement,” “including but not limited to a mandatory or prohibitory injunction.”
“The intent for this law is really to set norms to communicate who we are but also to create a community where discrimination isn’t tolerated,” Calabria said. “The intention is not to be punitive. The hope is that there will not be a large number of hotly contested cases and in the places that have passed these ordinances, there haven’t been.”
Read the entire ordinance below.
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