RALEIGH, N.C. — An effort to pass non-discrimination legislation designed to protect North Carolina public employees and teachers will face an uphill, if not impossible, battle in the legislature this year. With the General Assembly controlled by Republicans largely unfriendly to LGBT causes, bills to extend workplace protections will likely die in committee. Yet, that fact alone didn’t stop more than 100 people from across the state from attending today’s annual Equality North Carolina Lobby Day.
Stuart Campbell is executive director of Equality North Carolina, a statewide LGBT advocacy and education group. Campbell said non-discrimination legislation likely wouldn’t pass this session. His group, though, is in for the long haul.
“We recognize that this is going to be not only a multi-year strategy, but also a multi-pronged strategy,” Campbell said. “Obviously we’re focused on the legislative strategy — at the same time we’re making a very concerted effort to go out into cities and counties where we have support or at least the possibility of support and identifying councilmembers or county commissioners who want to support a non-discrimination policy for their localities.”
Several cities and counties across the state already include protections for gay workers. Others also include transgender workers, including Charlotte, Chapel Hill and Durham, among others.
Equality North Carolina’s bottom-up approach was detailed in November at their annual statewide conference in Greensboro. The change in strategy — from relying on a mostly-friendly, Democratic-controlled legislature to grassroots progress at the local levels — came as a response to 2010 elections that handed Republicans control of the legislature.
The switch in legislative control resulted in the passage of an anti-LGBT marriage amendment in May 2012. Last November, Republicans increased their majorities in the state Senate and House, as well as taking the governor’s office.
Campbell said Equality North Carolina will have to rely on local leaders, business people, chambers of commerce and other allies to push forward.
“It will be a multi-faceted, multi-pronged, multi-level approach, but it is going to take several years,” Campbell said. “We know that’s what we have to do if we want it to happen.”
Equality North Carolina’s endorsed legislation, introduced on April 9, has no Senate companion, though a similar bill exists. Both have been referred to their respective chamber’s rules committees, where bills often go to die.
Campbell said getting a Republican co-sponsor of the non-discrimination bill would help in moving it forward, even if that movement doesn’t come until future sessions or resulted only in a committee hearing this year. His group is working on meeting with Speaker of the House Thom Tillis, whom Campbell says is receptive to meeting. Schedules, Campbell said, have not yet worked out. Tillis and other Republican leaders have not commented on the legislation.
The state’s Republicans, said Campbell, will need to evolve.
“We’re seeing nationally a movement and a dialogue within the Republican Party about where they are on LGBT issues,” Campbell said. “The smart ones — the ones who want to have a party that lasts beyond the next 10 or 15 years as a national party — are being much more inclusive. That conversation needs to happen in North Carolina. What you’re seeing now are a lot of new legislators who are somewhat giddy with power. They are passing some outrageous stuff, but they will have to recognize that if they want to govern in the long run, they will have to settle back down and start working with other folks.
While Equality North Carolina is working to raise the profile of its non-discrimination bills, it will also be fighting off several challenges. One bill seeks to gut the advances made in comprehensive sexual health education in the state. Another seeks to stop LGBT-inclusive gender-neutral housing at the University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill. The group says it is keeping its eye on any potential threats to the landmark School Violence Prevention Act passed in 2009.
“It’s something we are watching very closely,” Campbell said.