CHARLOTTE, N.C. — A leader with the statewide LGBT advocacy group in North Carolina said Friday that LGBT Tar Heels do not have the “luxury” of waiting for federal employment protections, despite some growing controversy and pulled support for the bill.
Chris Sgro, executive director of Equality North Carolina, spoke briefly with qnotes on his organization’s position on the current version of the Employment Non-Discrimination Act (ENDA). Washington Blade writer Chris Johnson reported yesterday on some state groups’ decision to pull support for the bill, which includes several exemptions for religious institutions.
Equality North Carolina was among several groups which had not responded to the Blade‘s request for comment.
On Friday, Sgro said his organization supports the current version of ENDA, while also offering concern on the religious exemptions which, as the Blade wrote, “would continue to allow religious institutions, like churches or religious hospitals and schools, to discriminate against LGBT workers in ministerial and non-ministerial positions even if the bill were to become law.”
“While we do oppose the religious exemptions and hope that will get worked out in future versions of the bill, we also know that that workplace protections for North Carolinians are not merely a talking point,” Sgro responded. “This is a real and urgent issue that we know folks will face very soon. If and when we have marriage equality in the next few years, we don’t want good, hardworking North Carolinians to put up a picture of their wedding on their desk and be fired.”
Sgro added, “We simply don’t have the luxury of waiting. We certainly will be supportive of working out the religious exclusions in the future, but we are supportive of employment non-discrimination now.”
Sgro said his group applauded the U.S. Senate’s passage of the bill late last year and an affirmative vote from Sen. Kay Hagan (D-N.C.). They had hoped Hagan’s position would influence Sen. Richard Burr (R-N.C.) to follow suit.
According to the Washington Blade, four state equality groups — FreedomOhio, Equality New Mexico, the Transgender Education Network of Texas and Wyoming Equality — have said they will no longer support the current version of ENDA because of the religious exemptions.
“When we move to a place where a religious body can freely discriminate against a staff person in a non-ministerial/non-religious position — a janitor or groundskeeper, for instance — that is problematic,” Donna Red Wing, executive director of One Iowa, told the Blade. “Other protected classes do not have this added burden. One Iowa feels there needs to be more conversation around the nuances and the potential harm of this exemption.”
In 2007, Equality North Carolina was among several groups across the country advocating for a fully-inclusive version of ENDA, protecting workers on both the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity.