Asheville – After weeks of waiting for a response to questions about the new Buncombe County non-discrimination ordinance proposed by Commissioner Jasmine Beach-Ferrara, Beach-Ferrara has responded to the Tribune’s questions about the new law designed to include sexual orientation, gender identification and even hairstyles from discrimination.
Asked what prompted the ordinance, Beach-Ferrara said, “Community discussion about this ordinance began back in 2015/16 in response to the discrimination that LGBTQ people face and in response to the strong public support for such measures.”
“For example, national research shows that up to 90% of transgender people experience employment harassment or mistreatment example (See QR code). At the same time, there is strong public support for non-discrimination measures. Polling across NC consistently shows that 67% of people support these protections (http://ava.prri.org/#lgbt/2019/States/lgbtdis/m/US-NC).” Beach-Ferrara did not cite any local statistics or support polls.
“However, this discussion paused when HB142 passed, a state law which prohibited local communities from passing non-discrimination ordinances. On 12/1/2020 this ban was lifted when a section of HB142 sunsetted, and the conversation resumed about passing a non-discrimination ordinance.”
Asked who would the ordinance apply to, Beach-Ferrara said, “The ordinance provides protections to people in the areas of employment and public accommodations based on a set of protected classes that include sexual orientation, gender identity and expression and natural hairstyle.”
She was also asked if she had personally seen a need in the community for such an ordinance here.
Beach-Ferrara sidestepped the question and said, “Discrimination is real and this ordinance seeks to address it. I know LGBTQ people who have experienced discrimination and harassment. Beyond this, we see a political climate in which laws that discriminate against LGBTQ people are being proposed in NC right now.”
She did not say if those incidents had been local occurrences.
Beach-Ferrara was asked, if she sees such an ordinance infringing on people’s religious freedom, to which she replied, “As an ordained minister, religious freedom is very important to me, and it is robustly protected under federal law. This ordinance does not infringe upon religious freedom and, as a local ordinance, does not override the protections that exist under federal law. People are free to hold their beliefs and practice their faiths.”
“What this ordinance says is that people in our community will be protected from discriminatory treatment related to employment and public accommodations (places where people receive public services). It means you can’t be fired or denied service simply because of who you are or who you love.”
The ordinance states that it “reflects the community’s shared values.” Asked why would it be necessary to enact the ordinance if the values embodied in the ordinance are already shared by the community Beach-Ferrara replied, “We frequently pass ordinances and policies to codify community values and priorities – that gets to the very heart of why we have ordinances and laws at all. Passing this ordinance creates a way to address situations when discrimination is alleged to have occurred – it creates a process for reporting it and investigating what happened. In the spirit of this ordinance, there is a big focus on education and working to find resolution to situations that arise.”
A group of interdenominational ministers has come out against the ordinance (see front page story).