Raleigh Report

Wake commissioners leader distances county from HB2

Chair of the Wake County Commissioners James West listens during a joint meeting between the Wake Co. Commissioners and the Wake Co. School Board held at PNC Arena in Raleigh on Jan. 26, 2015.
Chair of the Wake County Commissioners James West listens during a joint meeting between the Wake Co. Commissioners and the Wake Co. School Board held at PNC Arena in Raleigh on Jan. 26, 2015. cseward@newsobserver.com

The leader of Wake’s governing body on Monday distanced his county from the controversial new state law that some claim is discriminatory toward the transgender community and other minority groups.

House Bill 2 – passed by the Republican-led General Assembly and signed into law by Gov. Pat McCrory two weeks ago – prevents local governments from passing local anti-discrimination ordinances and from opening bathrooms for people’s use based on the gender with which they identify.

It’s unclear how the new law affects an ordinance the Wake County Board of Commissioners passed last year, which protected county employees from discrimination. Board chairman James West on Monday issued a statement saying commissioners remain committed to respecting the rights of all county employees despite the new law, which he didn’t mention by name.

“County employees and applicants cannot be discriminated against based on race, color, religion, sex, national origin, age, disability, genetics, veteran status, sexual orientation, gender identity or expression, family status or political affiliation,” West wrote.

“As a board and as a county, we remain committed to those principles,” he continued. “As the debate over inclusion moves forward, we, as a community, must step back and remember the character strengths that bring us together, and pray and work for healing and unity for all people in North Carolina.”

Supporters say the law protects women and children from potential abuse, while opponents – from national politicians and celebrities to international business leaders – say it’s discriminatory.

Some commissioners have spoken out about the new law on social media. But until Monday, commissioners hadn’t publicly commented on the new law.

The Republican-led legislature has specifically targeted the Democrat-led Wake County Board of Commissioners in the past, passing a law last year that redrew the commissioners’ districts.

West’s statement comes a week after Raleigh Mayor Nancy McFarlane issued a similar statement reaffirming her city’s support for the transgender community.

Paul A. Specht: 919-829-4870, @AndySpecht

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