North Carolinaâ€™s largest metro area still struggling to amend policies, extend benefits
Thereâ€™s no doubt the LGBT community has seen success in North Carolina. Our achievements arenâ€™t quite as grand as those in New England or elsewhere, but they are steps forward nonetheless. Our progress has largely come in baby steps, as municipalities slowly add sexual orientation and gender-identity to non-discrimination policies and state-level advocates work to ensure safe schools for LGBT students.
The stateâ€™s two largest metro areas â€” Charlotte and the Triangleâ€™s Raleigh, Durham and Chapel Hill area â€” are home to large LGBT communities, but they arenâ€™t evenly matched when it comes to local progress on LGBT equality, affirmation and integration of LGBT citizens into the full lives of their communities.
Cheris Hodges, news reporter for Charlotteâ€™s Creative Loafing, recently highlighted some of the advances in Orange County â€” home to Chapel Hill â€” in an article for the news weekly, exploring the townâ€™s and countyâ€™s outreach to LGBT visitors.
During N.C. Pride weekend, the Chapel Hill/Orange County Visitors Bureau hosted gay travel professionals and media for the International Gay and Lesbian Travel Associationâ€™s Familiarization Tour of the area.
Among other media outlets from across the country, Q-Notes and Ashevilleâ€™s Stereotypd were there along with Hodges and Brian Clarey, editor of Greensboroâ€™s YES! Weekly.
â€śIt definitely felt like the Triangle had a better understanding of what the LGBT community was looking for as far as travel and things of that nature,â€ť Hodges told Q-Notes of her experiences chatting with Charlotte and Chapel Hill travel officials. â€śIt doesnâ€™t seem like there is a lot of knowledge in the Queen City about reaching out to gay visitors.
She said Chapel Hill seems to be reaching out because they are truly a welcoming community. In Charlotte, the lure of money seems to be the motivating factor.
For her article, Hodges spoke to David Paisley, a senior project manager for Community Marketing Research, Inc. Paisleyâ€™s company is a leader in LGBT consumer and travel research, recently conducting its annual national survey on gay and lesbian consumer interests and spending.
Paisley told Creative Loafing that Charlotte â€śisnâ€™t on the radarâ€ť in national gay and lesbian circles.
â€śFrom the West Coast perspective, when we look at North Carolina as a whole, certainly the Research Triangle area has some connection with the gay and lesbian community,â€ť Paisley said.
A large portion of Charlotteâ€™s citizens, Hodges has observed in her close to 10 years here, still find LGBT issues uncomfortable to deal with.
â€śIt is really sad that the largest city in North Carolina and the largest county in North Carolina still has so much animosity toward minorities and gays and lesbians,â€ť she said.
She feels Charlotteâ€™s political climate doesnâ€™t indicate a high level of LGBT support or affirmation.
â€śChapel Hill has openly gay elected officials,â€ť she said. â€śOrange County Commission has an openly gay man. Can you imagine an openly gay man on the Mecklenburg County Commission sitting up there with Bill James? Can you imagine the money that would be fueled into this guyâ€™s opponent from the secret powers-that-be to keep him out of office?â€ť
Chapel Hillâ€™s mayor welcomed LGBT travel professionals and media with open arms at a reception kicking off the tour. The townâ€™s openly gay councilman, Mark Kleinschmidt, was there, too. And, so was Orange County Commissioner Mike Nelson. Although she couldnâ€™t make it to the reception, Carrboro Alderwoman Lydia Lavelle spoke the next morning at a panel discussion.
Itâ€™s all starting to sound good, but Les Geller, a board member of the up-and-coming LGBT Center of Raleigh, said the situation isnâ€™t all roses. Despite its progressiveness the Triangleâ€™s LGBT community still has a long way to go.
â€śThere are so many diverse gay and lesbian groups in the Triangle that donâ€™t seem to know each other exist,â€ť he told Q-Notes. â€śIf they did know, they would be more cooperative and working toward a common goal. Thatâ€™s what we are trying to achieve with the Community Center.â€ť
But, like Hodges, Geller also said he finds it hard to understand why the stateâ€™s largest city isnâ€™t more welcoming to the gay community.
In North Carolina, 13 city and county governments have amended non-discrimination policies to include sexual orientation. Four also include gender-identity or -expression.
Additionally, six county or city governments extend benefits to domestic partners of public employees.
Although Mecklenburg County voted to add sexual orientation to its non-discrimination policy in 2005, it has yet to extend the same protections to transgender employees or offer domestic partner benefits. Despite discussion on the topic for years, the City of Charlotte has yet to move on any progressive, LGBT-inclusive initiatives. The city doesnâ€™t offer domestic partner benefits either, although most of its Uptown corporations do.
Some data courtesy Equality North Carolina
Correction: The City of Boone does have an open lesbian, Janet Pepin, currently serving on the city council. Q-Notes regrets this omission in the graph above and thanks Ms. Pepin for her service to Boone and the State of North Carolina. Also, the City of Greensboro and Durham County also offer domestic partner benefits.
Jennifer Roberts, chair of the Mecklenburg County Board of Commissioners, told Q-Notes the area is moving forward.
â€śI think weâ€™ve made a lot of progress,â€ť Roberts said. â€śThe county will be discussing domestic partner benefits probably within the next month.â€ť
In January, the Commission asked its human resources department to investigate the possibility of domestic partner benefit extensions.
â€śThere are a lot of indications that we are moving forward as a community and being inclusive and non-discriminatory,â€ť Roberts said, pointing to the school boardâ€™s new anti-bullying policy. â€śWe still have a long way to go, but we are moving forward and the voices of homophobia are getting fewer and farer between. Iâ€™m pleased the community is showing that it cares about equality and fairness.â€ť
Yet, the facts remain clear: Charlotte and Mecklenburg County lag behind even some of the smallest cities in the state.
â€śAll these things kind of speak for themselves,â€ť Hodges said.
What will it take for Charlotte to move ahead and join other North Carolina cities and counties in the quest for full equality? Roberts thinks the key will be employment.
She said more progress on these issues will â€śbode wellâ€ť for the future workforce.
â€śWe know we need creative and inclusive-minded people,â€ť Roberts said. â€śThe only way we can attract them is to show progress by real action â€” that we do not discriminate against any race, religion, ethnic origin, age or sexual orientation. My hope is that we will definitely move forward.â€ť
End the embarrassment, get with game: Read Matt Comerâ€™s take on Charlotte in his Editorâ€™s Note.