Poll: NC small-business owners support gay rights

vbridges@newsobserver.comJune 4, 2013 

A majority of North Carolina small-business owners believe federal and state laws should prohibit employment discrimination against gay and transgender employees in the work place, according to recent poll conducted for advocacy and research organization Small Business Majority.

The poll sought input from about 1,000 random small-business owners across the nation, including 100 in North Carolina with fewer than 100 employees. National figures were not available Monday. Rhett Buttle, Small Business Majority’s vice president for external affairs, said overall the national findings were consistent with North Carolina, but in some cases owners in the state showed stronger support for preventing discrimination.

The poll indicated that about 65 percent support federal nondiscrimination laws for gay and transgender employees. In addition, 67 percent support similar state protections.

The poll indicated that 74 percent of small business owners thought it was illegal under federal law to fire or refuse to hire someone because they are gay or transgender, and 64 percent thought it was illegal under state law.

Joshua Levy, an attorney with the Levy Law Offices in Raleigh, said federal law prohibits workplace discrimination on the basis of gender, sex, age, race and pregnancy, but there are no state or federal laws that outline such protections for the gay and transgender community.

“Not specifically at this point,” Levy said. “There’s talk that they are trying to do something on the federal level, but, per se it is not illegal (to fire or not hire someone because of their sexual orientation) right now.”

Stuart Campbell, executive director of Equality N.C., a statewide lesbian, gay, bi-sexual and transgender advocacy group, said the state is one of 29 where an employee can be fired for being gay and one of 31 where they can be fired for being transgender.

“I think this is a great opportunity to educate both business owners and employees in North Carolina that a lot of people agree that is wrong to discriminate, and there needs to be a change,” Campbell said.

Vulnerable at work

While some cities and counties have adopted policies that protect LGBT individuals, the majority of employees across the state are still vulnerable, he said. State lawmakers filed bills this year seeking protections for state employees and teachers in the work place, but the legislation failed to move forward.

Campbell said he hopes the poll raises awareness about the lack of workplace protection, and applauded responses that indicate small business owners in the state understand the benefits of not discriminating against someone because of who they are or who they love.

According to the poll, 63 percent of owners agree a law protecting against sexual orientation discrimination would improve the bottom line by attracting the best employees, while 36 percent indicted it would negatively impact their finances.

Of the small-business owners polled, 33 percent indicated they were Democrats, 32 percent were Republican, and 12 percent were independent.

Small Business Majority is a national nonprofit advocacy and research organization, which has faced some criticism for some of its stands, including its support of the Affordable Care Act.

The National Federation of Independent Business and the National Small Business Association have criticized the health care law.

Gregg Thompson, state director for the National Federation of Independent Business, said he has attended about 100 small business roundtables across the state in the past eight years, and this issue has never come up.

“So, I do not think it is an issue at the forefront of what small business owners are concerned about,” Thompson said.

“I am not saying the other issue is not important, but it is not a priority of small business owners right now,” he said.

Ann Close, managing member and senior human resources coach for Cary small business Close HR Connections, said the issue is more prominent in states, such as California, and for larger businesses. Most of the small business owners she works with are focused on behavior, performance and mental health issues.

“As time goes on, it is going to be something that more and more people are addressing,” Close said.

Bridges: 919-829-8917

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