Nondiscrimination ordinance rubs some residents the wrong way

THE LONG HAUL: Commissioner Jasmine Beach-Ferrara said while the push to pass the ordinance went back years, efforts were derailed after the passage of House Bill 2 in 2016 which prohibited municipalities from enacting such laws. The bill was later repealed and the provision regarding municipalities was allowed to sunset Dec.1 last year, renewing calls for cities throughout North Carolina to consider the local ordinances. Screenshot courtesy of Buncombe County

The third time wasn’t quite the charm for Buncombe County’s proposed nondiscrimination ordinance. At the April 6 meeting of the county Board of Commissioners, officials heard the third draft of a new local rule that would ban discrimination in employment and public accommodations based on 16 characteristics and lifestyles, including race, natural hair or hairstyles and gender identity.

Following its initial introduction during the March 16 meeting of the board, the measure was revised to apply its protections to housing in addition to public spaces such as stores, workplaces and restaurants. 

Commissioner Parker Sloan noted that while the 1968 Fair Housing Act protects against discrimination when renting or buying a home or other housing-related activities, sexual orientation and gender identity are not among the classes protected by the federal law. 

“It’s an attempt to make it clear to the community and an example through this ordinance that discrimination in housing among the LGBT community on the basis of gender identity and sexual orientation, that that kind of discrimination is not acceptable,” he said.

Eight members of the public voiced concern about the ordinance during the meeting, questioning whether business owners or religious establishments would be forced to hire LGBTQ people. Several commenters said that they felt that claims of discrimination against LGBTQ people were exaggerated. 

The Rev. John Grant of the Interdenominational Ministerial Alliance and the organization’s superintendent, the Rev. Ronald Gates, cited concern about religious freedom and the need for more community input before the board voted on the ordinance. 

“It is a grave concern. … I oppose it due to the simple fact of the lack of transparency and full disclosure,” Gates said. “There’s a lot of gray areas that tie into a lot of information with this ordinance. And I want to oppose it because of my religious freedom and my freedom of speech and our business practices.”  

Commenter Bob Machen said that discrimination in employment was “blown way out of perspective,” while resident John Hoerner said that he felt like the ordinance was addressing “a problem that doesn’t exist.”

“We already have discrimination laws, anti-discrimination laws. I think this puts a burden on a business owner especially,” he said. 

Buncombe County Attorney Michael Frue pointed out that the ordinance doesn’t include criminal enforcement and no separate entity would investigate or enforce provisions of the law. He also noted the inclusion in the ordinance of exceptions for religious organizations, like churches and religious schools. Bars, which are considered private clubs in North Carolina, or other establishments that are not open to the public would also be exempt.

But business owner Eva Stewart maintained that the law would force hiring practices contrary to some religious beliefs.

“This ordinance has an inherent conflict because it offers an exemption for religious organizations on hiring but not for people like me, a homebuilder, who is being compelled by this ordinance to participate against my deeply held religious beliefs by hiring a transgender person,” Stewart said. “It is a violation of my constitutional First Amendment right. Also, it is not fair to expose transgender people to a male-dominated construction site, believe me.”

The latest version of the ordinance outlines a process in which residents who experience discrimination in employment or public accommodations may file a complaint with an equity officer designated by the county within 180 days of the incident, followed by an investigation. Residents would file housing discrimination claims with the N.C. Human Relations Commission, with assistance from the county. The original version of the ordinance also included a $500 daily fine, which subsequently was reduced to $100.

A second reading of the amended ordinance could come before the commissioners for a vote at the board’s Tuesday, April 20, meeting.

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8 thoughts on “Nondiscrimination ordinance rubs some residents the wrong way

  1. Curious

    ” . . . natural hair or hairstyles . . gender identity or expression . . .”
    A man with a full beard to mid-chest and an unkempt, flyaway, shoulder-length hairstyle applies to be a waiter at my white table cloth restaurant, where servers wear tuxedo style shirts, bowties, black pants and vests. Am I required to hire him? May I impose any grooming requirements? A woman applies to be a sales assistant at my upscale, high fashion women’s clothing boutique. She has shaved the top and back of head and wears the hair at the side of her head in corn-rows tied ponytail style. Am I required to hire her? A person who describes themselves as non-binary, wears a dress, has a full-beard, and a Mohawk hairstyle applies to be a sales person at my luxury home real estate agency. Am I required to hire that person?

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    • Emily

      Here’s a thought. You could read each person’s resume and pick the most qualified candidate based on their prior experience and ability to interview well.

      • Enlightened Enigma

        Resume’ includes current photo these days, or should to be taken seriously. Right ?

      • Curious

        If I’ve read each person’s resume and picked the most qualified candidate based on their prior experience and ability to interview well and decide that their appearance (hairstyle or gender expression) does not suit my clientele and my business, have I violated the anti-discrimination ordnance?

    • Peter Robbins

      Here’s another thought: You could click on the link to the proposed ordinance that appears in the story and scroll down to the section on exemptions. That’s what I did.

      • Curious

        At last, someone has answered my question. Thank you to Peter Robbins.
        Here’s the section you cite:
        it is not unlawful for: 1.An Employer to employ, admit, classify, or refer any individual on the basis of race, natural hair or hairstyles, ethnicity, creed, color, sex, sexual orientation, gender identity or expression, national origin or ancestry, marital or familial status, pregnancy, veteran status, religious belief or non-belief, age, or disability, in those certain instances where race, natural hair or hairstyles, ethnicity, creed, color, sex, sexual orientation, gender identity or expression, national origin or ancestry, marital or familial status, pregnancy, veteran status, religious belief or non-belief, age, or disability status is a bona fide occupational qualification reasonably necessary to the normal operation of that particular business or enterprise.

  2. Sami Smith

    Most people here do not want this. Activists make a lot of noise and city council and county commission react accordingly. But you ask the average taxpayer, who does not even know of the call ins, surveys and re-imagining exercises going on, and they see the most impractical, wasteful and divisive initiatives being considered and sometimes passed. This non-discrimination ordinance is an example. Everyone is different, and you find that out by getting to know people and using your senses and intelligence to decide if you want them in your life as as employees, friends, or any other interactive activity. This piece of identity politics is trying to force people to be together. If we were not human, non-discrimination ordinance may work, but we are human.

  3. G Man

    I find it somewhat confusing and unnerving that we have government entities who are simultaneously seeking to “enhance anti discrimination laws” and to create laws and programs which are designed to benefit a particular race or a particular sexual characteristic.

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