Buncombe Commissioners give final approval to discrimination ban

Lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) employees of Buncombe County gained another safeguard against discrimination after commissioners gave final approval April 16 to add “sexual orientation” and “gender identity” to its list of protected classes.  

This was commissioners second vote on the measure, needed before it could take effect because it changes the county’s personnel policy. As they did when commissioners initially cast them April 3, the votes fell along party lines: Democrats David Gantt, Ellen Frost, Holly Jones and Brownie Newman joined in support; Republicans Joe Belcher, Mike Fryar, and David King were opposed.

Unlike the first vote, however, this one was accompanied by very little discussion of the matter.

“I think all of us have talked extensively about this” in the past, noted Gantt. There was no public hearing, and residents declined to discuss it during a general public comment period. A similar proposal failed to win approval last year, but all the commissioners who opposed it are no longer on the board.

Immediately after the April 16 vote, Campaign for Southern Equality, a local LGBT advocacy group, sent out a press release praising the move.

“Buncombe County has taken another important step towards equality by protecting LGBT county employees from discrimination in the workplace,” said Rev. Jasmine Beach-Ferrara, executive director. “A clear majority of Americans believe LGBT people should be protected from employment discrimination. Unfortunately, however, state law in North Carolina still allows for a person to be fired simply for being LGBT. Until the day our state acts to treat all people equally, we hope that more counties will pass policies like this.”

Four other North Carolina counties (Durham, Guilford, Mecklenburg and Orange) provide employment protection on the basis of “sexual orientation.” Durham, Mecklenburg and Orange also offer employment protection on the basis of “gender identity,” according to the Campaign for Southern Equality. Although it’s unclear if Buncombe County employees were previously discriminated against, according to research from the Center for American Progress, LGBT people experience high rates of harassment in the general workforce: An average of one in five public sector LGBT employees reports workplace discrimination, according to its report.

The Buncombe County personnel change follows March 19 action to extend employee benefits to both same- and opposite-sex domestic partners. That vote also fell along party lines, with Democrats in support and Republicans against.

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About Jake Frankel
Jake Frankel is an award-winning journalist who enjoys covering a wide range of topics, from politics and government to business, education and entertainment.

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