Weaverville Town Council considers an LGBT ordinance that would protect the rights of such individuals in the workplace.
A popular LGBT ordinance in the eastern part of North Carolina is being entertained by Asheville and Buncombe County. The ordinance made its first appearance at the Weaverville Town Council’s January meeting (see story page 4)
The town council discussed an LBGTQ ordinance during the meeting after Councilman Patrick Fitzsimmons presented the matter to the council. He first went into the genesis of these types of regulations, saying they begin with the state’s HB 2—”bathroom bill”—that changed into a compromise bill known as HB 102.
That law did make some compromises on the original bill, but it also made it illegal for counties and municipalities to pass protection for LGBTQ community members,” said Fitzsimmons. He went on to say that the law had a “sunset date,” so it expired in early December.
“Now municipalities can adopt protections for LGBTQ communities concerning employment and public accommodations. It does not, however, allow municipalities to change in regards to bathroom access in case anyone has concerns about that,” Fitzsimmons said.
He then went over a list of municipalities that have adopted such ordinances. Next, he reviewed another list of protected statutes such as veterans, races, religion, etc, but that if you’re gay, you are not protected, he added.
“An employer can fire someone for being gay or being transgender for that alone,” said Fitzsimmons. “Likewise, any business in town can refuse to offer services and products to people simply because of their sexual orientation or their gender identification.”
Fitzsimmons said he expects to see communities across the state adopt these kinds of laws and hopes that Weaverville would do the same. He then wanted to hear what people had to say and offered to help draft the ordinance.
Town Attorney Jennifer Jackson said that the Biden administration and federal laws were beginning to address the issue, but “there are gaps in that.” She added that the Title 7 protection only applies to employers with more than 15 employees.
“We have a lot of employers that fall outside of those regulations,” said Jackson.
Jackson singled out small businesses and public accommodations as the two areas that the town ordinance would be looking to address. She also said the town had already addressed the issue for their hiring policy but may need to have the council clarify that with more specific language.
Councilman Jeff McKenna asked if a county plan would apply to Weaverville. Fitzsimmons said he believes that a county ordinance would not.
McKenna then asked, “If we did have our own ordinance, who would enforce that if you have an issue?”
Fitzsimmons said that Asheville was looking at having a human rights commission to look at their infractions. Jackson said that the ordinance could have civil penalties.
“You know Jeff, I suspect that the message is more powerful than the actual action is here,” said Fitzsimmons. “If we said this is what we’re going to stand for, we’re going to find out that people are going to abide by that and we’d find that there would be few violations of the act.”
Root spoke up and said that enforcement is an important part of the ordinance recounting for the board a lawsuit he was currently involved in.
“I do find that due process has a way of disappearing in human rights commissions. I would be somewhat concerned about that,” Root said.
Councilman Andrew Nagle asked for clarification, saying the Town of Weaverville definitely employed more than 15 people and that is against federal law.
“Fundamentally, it’s already against the law to discriminate in hiring practices.” Nagle added, “If you’re going to write an ordinance with penalties, is Chief Davis going to enforce them?” He then offered an example saying, “If Well-Bred [Bakery] said I’m not going to make a cake for a gay couple’s wedding, who’s going to enforce that at the local level?” Nagle then stated if it is about a visual, maybe a proclamation was more in order.
Saying he was not for discrimination, Nagle went on to point out that the towns Fitzsimmons cited as having passed such ordinances were not Weaverville.
“I’m not sure Weaverville is really Chapel Hill. We’re a different town,” said Nagle.
Fitzsimmons pointed to Hillsboro, the first town in the state to pass such a law, and that it was about the same size as Weaverville.
Nagle clarified saying, “I’m not saying size-wise, I’m talking ideology-wise.”
Fitzsimmons said he thinks people in Weaverville would also be against discrimination just as those in Hillsboro. Nagle agreed but pushed a proclamation rather than an ordinance.
Root came back with the fact he thinks it would be interesting to see what the county did.
McKenna agreed to say, “I think if we do end up one day having a statute or ordinance, I think there’s more value in being a follower in this area rather than a leader.”
He added that a larger municipality could vet the ordinance from a legal standpoint.
One resident spoke at Root’s request as he was actively looking for any input from the public. She began by disclaiming she was not a discriminatory person but did have concerns: should a business owner have a religious objection to providing a service that might go against their religious beliefs?
“Business owners are people and sometimes you don’t want to make them feel like what they think doesn’t matter… maybe they keep their business under 15 for a reason…maybe they have a different ideology or their religious beliefs are different,” said the resident.
Root asked for any further comment, and hearing none said the town should wait and see what the county does.
Editor’s note: The Tribune emailed Fitzsimmons to ask several follow-up questions about the ordinance including what prompted the discussion? Who would such an ordinance apply to? Have you seen a need for such an ordinance in the town? Do you see such an ordinance infringing on other people’s religious rights? And if he had anything else you might want to add? However, he did not respond as of press time.