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Charlotte City Council Approves Expanded Nondiscrimination Ordinance

James Willamor

The Charlotte City Council on Monday night unanimously approved an expanded nondiscrimination ordinance.

Charlotte’s expanded ordinance applies to businesses of all sizes and provides additional protections. It protects workers from discrimination based on their race, sex, gender identity, gender expression, national origin, hairstyle or disability, among other things. Federal and state anti-discrimination laws generally only apply to businesses with 15 or more employees.

About 35 people commented ahead of Monday night’s council vote. A handful of speakers argued against the measure, saying it would hurt small businesses or infringe on their freedom of religion, but the majority expressed their support for the measure.

“These protections you’re passing are not just important for LGBTQ people, though they certainly are,” said Mason Cress, of Charlotte. “They’re also important for natural hair. They're important for veteran status, disability status, pregnancy status. These are all gaping holes in our protections — holes that you all have the authority to fill.”

Both of the council’s Republicans, Ed Driggs and Tariq Bokhari, voted in support of a motion to add political affiliation as a protected category in the new ordinance, though the motion failed.

“(We) will sit here and say all of these other protections against discrimination are valid but in our city, it’s OK for someone to be fired because they marched with Republicans the night before,” Bokhari said.

Five years ago, Charlotte City Council passed a similar expanded nondiscrimination ordinance. It allowed for people to use public restrooms that matched their gender identity. The measure prompted North Carolina’s General Assembly to pass House Bill 2 — also known as “the bathroom bill.”

That law, signed into law by then-Gov. Pat McCrory, a former Charlotte mayor, nullified the city’s expanded ordinance and it required that people use the bathroom that matched the gender on their birth certificate in all government-owned buildings, like the airport and Charlotte Convention Center.

HB2 was repealed in 2017. But in doing so, lawmakers prohibited cities and towns from passing any regulations related to bathrooms — and they placed a moratorium on cities and towns passing new nondiscrimination ordinances until January 2021.

Since then, several North Carolina cities and towns, including Durham and Carrboro, have passed ordinances to give the LGBTQ community legal protections.

Charlotte’s expanded ordinance approved Monday does not include any mention of bathrooms.

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Claire Donnelly is WFAE's health reporter. She previously worked at NPR member station KGOU in Oklahoma and also interned at WBEZ in Chicago and WAMU in Washington, D.C. She holds a master's degree in journalism from Northwestern University and attended college at the University of Virginia, where she majored in Comparative Literature and Spanish. Claire is originally from Richmond, Virginia. Reach her at cdonnelly@wfae.org or on Twitter @donnellyclairee.