A first look came late Monday at what Charlotte City Council members could approve as the city’s updated LGBTQ+ nondiscrimination ordinance.
According to a draft and emails provided to the Observer, the proposal written by Democrats on the council would broaden many aspects of the city’s current ordinance. Debate could come as early as next Monday.
It’s a long-awaited step after five years without local LGBTQ+ protections.
The proposed ordinance protects sexual orientation, gender identity and expression, and natural hairstyles while also including employment protections for people who work at businesses with less than 15 people. That’s important because federal employment law only explicitly bars such discrimination by employers with 15 or more workers.
An expansion of the ordinance to cover employers beyond city government is a major change. Republican council member Tariq Bokhari’s version of amendments to the nondiscrimination ordinance would similarly ban discrimination by employers with any size workforce.
“I am glad that there is a version of this ordinance that includes protections for employees that work at companies for less than 15 people — for people who experience discrimination in smaller companies and have no legal recourse,” Charlotte Pride spokesperson Matt Comer said. “It’s exciting to see that and exciting that the city has made further steps to dig into definitions about what protected class means.”
Expanding local law to cover private small employers, as proposed, could lead to litigation, according to Charlotte city attorney Patrick Baker’s memo to City Council members.
The ordinance would go into effect January 1, 2022.
Nondiscrimination law in Charlotte
The movement to pass a nondiscrimination ordinance in Charlotte has been brewing since last year.
Charlotte City Council first voted to expand its nondiscrimination ordinance to include LGBTQ+ protections in 2016, and the state legislature responded with House Bill 2, which restricted cities from passing their own protective ordinances and required people to use the public bathroom corresponding with the gender on their birth certificates. National outrage resulted in the repeal and replacement of HB2 with House Bill 142, which put an expiration on the local ordinance prong. That portion ended in December.
Many cities across North Carolina, like Greensboro and Durham, have since passed protective policies. Mecklenburg County commissioners unanimously passed their own resolution in February, though because it is not an ordinance, there is no enforcement component.
Whatever proposal is adopted will add to the city’s already existing nondiscrimination ordinance, which was first enacted in 1968, but will not affect bathrooms. Under state law, local governments specifically cannot create laws that dictate the usage of public restrooms. There is currently no language that protects or prohibits people from using the public restrooms they wish.
Although Monday’s unveiling of the Democratic version of amendments to the city’s ordinance is the latest — it’s not the first this summer.
Bokhari released his nondiscrimination ordinance proposal last month.
His proposal, titled “A Conservative NDO for CLT,” centers the principles of “freedom and individual liberty.” His revised proposal, which was updated and republished June 29, includes gender identity, gender expression and sexual orientation, as well as natural hair, veteran, martial status and employment protections. But it’s not the final draft.
Bokhari told the Observer on Monday afternoon that he is planning to publish another version of his nondiscrimination ordinance that expressly protects Charlotteans from being discriminated against because of their political beliefs.
“A lot of people feel like this will be a flashpoint,” he said. “I don’t know how anyone on the other side of the aisle can argue against it… We’re either against discrimination or we’re not.”
According to Bokhari, City Council at their August 2 session will discuss the proposed changes. A public comment and potential vote will follow at the city’s August 9 meeting.
“I am grateful the city of Charlotte is moving forward with a proposed ordinance,” Comer said. “Nondiscrimination protections for Charlotte’s LGBTQ community has been long in the making. It’s certainly been a conversation with a variety of people in town because it’s a nonpartisan issue.
“This is a really, really good sign that the city is moving forward.”