Novant Health hires ‘architect’ of anti-gay marriage amendment

Activist says LGBT patients deserve better, Brunstetter closely associated with legislated bigotry

by Matt Comer  Editor  editor@goqnotes.com
Published: December 4, 2013 in News

Pete Brunstetter

Pete Brunstetter

CHARLOTTE, N.C. — One of the largest healthcare systems in North Carolina is taking criticism for its decision to hire a state lawmaker known as the “architect” of North Carolina’s 2012 anti-LGBT constitutional amendment banning same-sex marriage.

Bradley Hardy, an LGBT activist who lives in Yadkinville, N.C., was represented in the North Carolina Senate by state Sen. Pete Brunstetter, a primary proponent of the May 2012 amendment. Brunstetter will be leaving the state Senate Dec. 15 to take a job as executive vice president and chief legal counsel for the Winston-Salem, N.C.-based Novant Health.

Hardy says Brunstetter will have significant pull with Novant Health’s administration and policies.

“My worry is that we’ve already got him on record with how he votes and the policies he pursues,” Hardy says. “If he’s already taken a rather homophobic approach in the Senate, I’m not sure we can trust him not to do the same with people’s health care.”

Just days before the May 6, 2012, vote on the amendment, a freelance journalist in Winston-Salem reported remarks from Brunstetter’s wife, who said her husband wrote the amendment to protect the Caucasian race. Brunstetter later denied the accusations against his wife.

Brunstetter, who works for one of the state’s largest law firms and is a key budget writer in the state Senate, had previously served on Novant Health’s board, including a term as chairman.

For Hardy, the question is not where Brunstetter serves or when, but rather what real affect Brunstetter may have on policy and the treatment of LGBT patients and employees.

“I think the issue is, regardless of where he serves, is that he can’t be trusted to keep an open mind and make decisions that benefit everyone,” Hardy says.

Hardy beleives that Novant Health’s hiring of Brunstetter doesn’t jibe with the system’s commitment to fairness.

“Novant Health makes it clear they don’t want to discriminate against anyone in anyway, but they’ve hired someone who is known as the architect of Amendment One in the state Senate. That public persona he has clashes with their supposed mission statement,” Hardy says. “I would like Novant to clarify; I want them to acknowledge that they have hired someone who appears on the surface to not be friendly toward their LGBT clientele. I would just like for them to reassure these folks that this hiring will in no way lead to any sort of discrimination when it comes to [hospital] visitations and how they handle LGBT patients in the future.”

qnotes reached out to Vi Alexander Lyles, a member of the Novant Health Board of Trustees and a newly-installed member of Charlotte City Council who received an endorsement from the Mecklenburg LGBT Political Action Committee.

Lyles didn’t respond directly, but sent the message to Novant Health CEO Carl Armato.

In response, Kati Everett, Novant Health’s vice president for marketing and public relations, issued a statement.

“As an organization Novant Health values diversity and inclusion which also means that our 25,000 employees have a right to determine their own personal decisions,” the emailed statement from Everett read. “We exist to improve the health of our communities and we do this by providing remarkable healthcare to every individual no matter their orientation, resources or personal beliefs. We also value diversity as an employer; one way we demonstrate that commitment is through our own employee benefit plans that include coverage of same sex domestic partners for benefit eligible employees. We stay committed to this position now and in the future.”

Hardy says he’s spoken directly with the assistant to Armato, who shared those same inclusive sentiments with him. Hardy says he appreciates Novant Health’s inclusive stands, but doesn’t think they understand the affect hiring Brunstetter may have.

“[A] company so committed to ensuring equality for their employees and clients deserves to understand that patients like myself feel uncomfortable when people who have their name attached to bigotry at the level that Senator Brunstetter has are put in a position to make decisions regarding my rights and the type of care I might receive,” Hardy says. “Amendment One was the most concerted effort to legitimize homophobia in our state and Novant just hired the man who offered his legal and political knowledge to take away rights for some back in May of 2012 to now utilize those same skills to advance Novant’s goals which allegedly include nondiscrimination.”

Hardy adds, “Not a lot of time has passed since 2012 and the senator’s actions are still fresh in some of our minds. It’s been nearly 60 years since Strom Thurmond filibustered the Civil Rights Act. He was unsuccessful but still arguably most associated with that moment. Brunstetter’s efforts were successful and one year is not nearly soon enough to convince any of us that he has had a change of heart.”

Novant Health has a dozen medical facilities across Carolinas and more than 1,100 medical group doctors. Its two largest facilities, Novant Health Presbyterian Medical Center and Novant Health Forsyth Medical Center, are based in Charlotte and Winston-Salem.

The healthcare system does include sexual orientation and gender identity in their employment non-discrimination policies and offers domestic partner benefits, but lacks some other inclusive policies for patients and training.

Novant Health did not participate in a 2013 rating of healthcare inclusion policies, conducted by the Human Rights Campaign, the nation’s largest LGBT civil rights organization. Novant, however, did participate in 2012. That year’s rating showed Novant Health lacked several other policies protecting visitation by LGBT-headed families, including visitation by spouses and visitation of a parent’s child or children. Additionally, the rating showed Novant Health lacked training for staff members in LGBT patient-centered care. Since the time of that survey, the network has added gender identity to its employment non-discrimination policies.