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LGBTQ North Carolinians remain without equal protection; three bills would change that

As Pride month nears its end, the reality that LGBTQ North Carolinians remain without equal protection under the law comes into stark relief. Pride season invites visibility, empowerment, and celebration. The roots of pride season are grounded in a historical struggle for collective safety and bodily autonomy; today the season calls us to evoke that history and combat ongoing discrimination and violence toward LGBTQ people. Yet without substantial changes to state law, LGBTQ people have no legal recourse to fight discrimination in North Carolina.  

A few months ago, Democratic legislators introduced three bills that would change the legal landscape by codifying protections for LGBTQ North Carolinians that are currently nonexistent. Deemed a “historic slate of legislation,” the three bills (H514, H515, and H516) would expand anti-discrimination laws, fully repeal HB2, and make conversion therapy illegal for minors and disabled adults respectively. All three bills have yet to be heard on the House floor. 

Republicans ignored a bill that would protect LGBTQ homebuyers and job applicants

H514 is a comprehensive nondiscrimination bill that would specifically protect LGBTQ people and veterans from discrimination in home buying and hiring, as well as applying for credit, insurance, or public housing. The bill expands the “protected status” category to sexual orientation, gender identity, and veteran status. H514 addresses the fact that LGBTQ renters and home-buyers still face housing discrimination. Moreover, a national affordable housing crisis in major cities, where many LGBTQ people live, has impacted RaleighDurham, and Charlotte. Currently 17 states and almost 250 local jurisdictions outlaw housing discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity, but North Carolina is not yet one of those states and there is no federal law on the books. A 2018 survey revealed that a majority of LGBTQ renters fear discrimination during the home buying process, citing barriers and differential treatment. H514 followed the introduction of the Equality Act at the federal level, which would update the Civil Rights Act of 1964 to include federal protections for LGBTQ people. The US House of Representatives passed the legislation in May 2019. H514 is an urgent piece of legislation that advances LGBTQ material security and safety.

Republicans ignored a bill that would repeal all of discriminatory HB2

H515would repeal HB2 “in its entirety,” specifically the pieces of the bill that were left in place after the behind-the scenes compromise and partial repeal passed in 2017. HB2, a controversial and deeply unpopular piece of legislation colloquially referred to as the “bathroom bill,” passed in 2016 and legalized discrimination against LGBTQ North Carolinians. The bill specifically targeted trans, nonbinary, and genderqueer people by mandating that people use the restroom that corresponded with their sex assigned at birth. In 2017, after sustained organizing from LGBTQ groups, pressure from businesses, and a looming deadline from the NCAA to change the law, legislators passed H142, a behind-the-scenes partial repeal of HB2 that LGBTQ advocacy groups called “shameful.”The compromise banned local non-discrimination ordinances until 2020. Moreover, both HB2 and H142 have been tied up in federal litigation since 2016 with minimal resolution. Democratic legislators who introduced H516 know H142 did not address the deep wounds from HB2 that continue to linger in LGBTQ communities. It is time to repeal the bill in its entirety. 

Republicans ignored a bill that would ban harmful “conversion therapy” for LGBTQ youth

Finally, H516 prohibits the controversial and harmful practice of conversion therapy for LGBTQ minors and disabled adults and bans the state from funding conversion therapy. H516 also states that being LGBTQ is “part of the natural spectrum of human identity” and includes penalties for people who practice conversion therapy. Conversion therapy, also called “ex-gay therapy,” is designed to change or “cure” a person’s sexual orientation. Fortunately, most major mental health institutions have finally caught up to what LGBTQ people who have survived conversion therapy already know: the practice lacks scientific basis, is a deeply traumatizing experience, and increases the risk of suicide. H516 emerged out of a broader grassroots campaign “Born Perfect NC” that seeks to end conversion therapy in the state. As many as one in three LGBTQ people have been subjected to the practice, yet a recent poll indicates most people want to ban the practice for minors. While legal in most of the US, 16 states have recently passed laws restricting the use of conversion therapy and it is long past time for North Carolina to do so.

As Pride month nears an end, it is time for state lawmakers to pass these bills and demonstrate they represent all of the people who call NC home 

In totality, these three pieces of legislation would transform the legal and political climate for LGBTQ communities in North Carolina. This slate of legislation puts safeguards on the ability to secure a home without fear of discrimination, move through public space without the fear of bodily surveillance, and live in a state that takes action against “therapists” who would rather see a group of people traumatized than fully actualized. Yet without a legislative commitment to full protection under the law, Pride month in North Carolina will feature rainbow flags on businesses that can legally discriminate in their hiring processes. It is time for state leaders to pass these bills and demonstrate they represent all of the people who call North Carolina home.