The Board of Aldermen passed two resolutions at a rare special meeting Saturday in response to new state legislation barring local anti-discrimination measures.
House Bill 2, the Public Facilities Privacy and Security Act, stripped away local ordinances and the rights of North Carolinians to bring civil action in claims of discrimination in employment or public accommodations on account of race, religion, color, national origin or biological sex (as well as handicap for employment only).
The town hall’s meeting room overflowed with Carrboro residents and Orange County elected officials
Mayor Lydia Lavelle called the meeting to order and quickly got to the matter at hand – a resolution that called for:
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▪ The repeal of House Bill 2
▪ Local municipalities to file legal action against the legislature, restoring their authority to pass local civil rights ordinances
▪ Encouragement of all businesses and government offices providing public accommodations to provide gender non-specific restrooms for their customers and employees wherever practicable
Before reading the lengthy resolution, Alderman Damon Seils injected a moment of levity, telling the crowded room that the resolution was lengthy and they should settle in to hear it all. “If you need a break, there are non-gender-specific bathrooms available,” he said.
Alderman Sammy Slade then brought forward a “Motion of Strong Condemnation” for the General Assembly and the Governor for enacting House Bill 2, which he called “hate legislation.”
“The legislation, its brief 12-hour legislative history, and lawmakers’ public statements clearly demonstrate a discriminatory intent; lack of knowledge and understanding of transgender people; lack of respect for the dignity of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people on the part of the General Assembly and Governor McCrory,” it reads. “This bill must be held accountable and get exposure for supporting this intolerable act of hate.”
Following the unanimous vote for that resolution, the audience spoke.
Orange County Commissioner Penny Rich commented on high-profile corporations that have already threatened to take their business elsewhere.
“Boycotts don’t work,” she said. “We need their money to support lawsuits to fight this.” Rich said Orange County expects to make changes to the two buildings that will require retrofit to ensure that non-gender-specific bathrooms are available.
Dolores Chandler, a transgender person from Efland who works in Carrboro, said that responding quickly is critical, but cautioned that bathrooms aren’t the real issue. “It’s about freedom of movement,” Chandler said. “There’s not a day that goes by that I don’t have anxiety about using public restrooms.”
Chapel Hill Town Council Member Jessica Anderson spoke in support of the aldermen’s action and added her personal message.
“I’ll go into the bathroom with you,” she told the audience. “I know lots of straight people who will. As a soon-to-be mother of two, I’d be happy to have my kids go with you – with anyone– except anyone who voted for this bill.”
Fiona Matthews, a Carrboro resident who previously lived in Washington D.C., said that she learned a few things about the value of a very targeted boycott while there. She and some friends who own Raleigh-based businesses are creating posters with the pictures of all the legislators who voted for the bill. “These restaurants may not feel comfortable serving these legislators,” she said. “And they perhaps they won’t let them use their bathrooms.”
One speaker described the legislature’s action as a Trojan Horse. Seils agreed, saying that perhaps the most damaging part of the bill is that which denies all North Carolinians the right to seek legal remedies for employment and public accommodations discrimination. Because these are covered under the Civil Rights Act, the much more cumbersome and expensive remedy of federal legal action is now the only option for victims of discrimination.
Amada Ashley, a Carrboro resident and transgender woman, said this bill was sending a message to anyone who is seen as liberal: women, veterans, minorities.
“They’re coming for us. All of us,” she said. “We cannot take this lightly. I hope you see the gravity and danger that this bill represents.”
She received a standing ovation.