Most North Carolinians remember HB2 and the impact that discriminatory bill had on our state’s reputation and on the lives of the LGBTQ people who live and work here, particularly transgender people.
In the years after HB2, another bill — House Bill 142 — prevented municipalities across the state from enacting measures that would protect LGBTQ North Carolinians in many area of our daily lives, such as housing, healthcare, and public spaces like restaurants and stores. The discriminatory provisions of HB142 expired at the end of last year, and since then we’ve seen at least nine municipalities move swiftly to enact local nondiscrimination protections. That’s inspiring and urgently needed, but it’s not enough. Today, less than 10% of North Carolinians live in cities, towns, or counties with LGBTQ-inclusive nondiscrimination protections.
While there is no shortage of bills hostile to LGBTQ people in the N.C. General Assembly, there is hope on the horizon: The Equality Act. It’s federal legislation that enjoys bipartisan support in Congress and has cleared the U.S. House. It would update our nation’s nondiscrimination laws and ensure that LGBTQ people are protected from discrimination in areas like employment, housing and public accommodations.
There’s a lot of division in our nation, but protecting LGBTQ people from discrimination enjoys broad support and it’s time Congress took decisive action by passing the Equality Act. Recent polling shows that 67% of North Carolinians support LGBTQ nondiscrimination protections.
Enacting nondiscrimination protections into law is an affirmation of our values — values rooted in the Golden Rule of treating others the way we, ourselves, wish to be treated. We value ensuring that one can go to work and be judged on job performance, nothing else. We value treating every person equally in public spaces like shops, government offices and restaurants. We value that people eager to open their hearts and homes to youth in need of foster care or adoption have the opportunity to do so.
Right now in North Carolina and in 28 other states across the nation, LGBTQ people regularly face discrimination in any of those areas of life and do not enjoy comprehensive protections under state law. But a supermajority of Americans from all walks of life — 83% —support nondiscrimination protections.
Support is nearly as high among all major religions. For instance, 82% of white mainline Protestants, 81% of Hispanic Catholics, and 78% of Mormons all support nondiscrimination protections. You just don’t see numbers like that on any other issue.
There’s no reason for Congress to delay any longer, and I urge N.C. Sens. Richard Burr and Thom Tillis to demonstrate leadership here. Sixty-seven percent of their constituents support the protections enshrined in the Equality Act; they should do the right thing and back this legislation.
But this is about more than taking action simply because there’s bipartisan support. It’s about recognizing, definitively and comprehensively, the inherent dignity and humanity of all LGBTQ people. This is particularly necessary after the last year, a year in which we saw more anti-LGBTQ legislation introduced and advanced in state legislatures than at any other time in recent memory.
The Equality Act won’t fix all of the discrimination to which LGBTQ people are vulnerable, particularly LGBTQ people of color. But passing it at a time when our community is once again playing defense in far too many places nationwide will send a powerful message, especially to LGBTQ youth.
North Carolina is home to about 382,000 LGBTQ people. We’ve endured HB2 and HB 142 together. We’ve endured watching lawmakers in the General Assembly speak in careless, hurtful and dangerous terms about what it means to be transgender. We’ve watched time and again over the years as the nation’s highest court debates issues related to our lives and our families. The Equality Act puts much of that turmoil to rest.
LGBTQ people need the protections enshrined in the Equality Act, and with support from virtually all corners of American life Congress cannot afford to wait any longer.
Kendra R. Johnson is the Executive Director of Equality North Carolina.