Hillsborough has become the first town in North Carolina to adopt LGBTQ-inclusive antidiscrimination protections since the state’s ban on doing so expired.
The Hillsborough Board of Commissioners passed the ordinance Monday night, TV station WTVD reports. Hillsborough is a town of about 6,000 near Raleigh, the state capital.
Commissioner Matt Hughes led the effort. “It’s very important to me as a member of the LGBTQ community,” he said, according to the station. “Growing up I didn’t even know that I could even hold the office that I hold because of the fact that I was LGBTQ. Could someone see voting for a young gay biracial guy?”
The move comes after the expiration of a provision of North Carolina’s House Bill 142, which replaced and partially repealed the infamous House Bill 2. HB 2, adopted in 2016, prevented local governments from enacting or enforcing LGBTQ-inclusive employment nondiscrimination or public accommodations ordinances (affecting private businesses or contractors) and barred transgender people from using the restrooms, locker rooms, and other sex-segregated facilities that correspond with their gender identity, if these facilities are located in government buildings, including public elementary and secondary schools and state colleges and universities. Signed into law by Republican Gov. Pat McCrory, HB 2 led to public outcry, lawsuits, and boycotts of the state — and the loss of McCrory’s reelection bid.
When Democrat Roy Cooper became governor in 2017, the state legislature passed and he signed HB 142, which, under a compromise, left the ban on inclusive antidiscrimination ordinances in place until December 2020. It also lifted the restrictions on restroom access for trans people but reserved the state’s right to control the matter. HB 2 had been enacted in response to Charlotte’s adoption of an LGBTQ-inclusive ordinance on public accommodations, including restrooms.
Penalties for violation of the Hillsborough ordinance include a misdemeanor charge and a fine of up to $500, WTVD reports. City governments in Chapel Hill and Carrboro are scheduled to consider inclusive ordinances this week, and the Orange County Commission and Durham City Council plan to do so next week.
LGBTQ+ rights activists praised Hillsborough’s action, which comes less than five years after Pride flags were burned outside one of the city's churches. “North Carolinians have been ready for nondiscrimination protections for a long time,” Kendra Johnson, executive director of Equality North Carolina, told the station. “Without them, LGBTQ North Carolinians, particularly Black, brown, trans, and gender-nonconforming folks, face harassment and violence on a daily basis.”
Equality North Carolina and the Campaign for Southern Equality are working with LGBTQ+ advocates across the state to encourage cities and counties to enact such ordinances. Allison Scott, director of policy and programs at the Campaign for Southern Equality, released a statement saying, “We live in divisive and challenging times, so seeing local communities unite to pass common-sense legislation protecting their neighbors from discrimination is an inspiring breath of fresh air. This leadership from lawmakers in Hillsborough and other municipalities will move North Carolina closer to our vision of a state where all people can thrive. LGBTQ North Carolinians — especially transgender people like me — have lived under the trauma and erasure of anti-LGBTQ laws in our state for too long. But today, many of us feel valued.”