Buncombe County Commissioners will wait until later this month to vote on a non-discrimination ordinance. It would be the first such county ordinance in Western North Carolina since local governments were allowed to pass them in December 2020.
The law would protect people from discrimination based on long list of identities – gender, sexual orientation, race, religion, pregnancy, veteran status, hair style and more.
It was on the agenda for commissioners to vote on Tuesday. But Commissioner Jasmine Beach-Ferrara explained changes were being made to it, adding a section on housing discrimination, and that the vote would be delayed.
“Since our last discussion at the commissioner level there has been some revisions to the language that I am actually really excited about – I think they strengthen the ordinance and clarify it,” said Beach-Ferrara, who is running for Democratic nomination in the 11th Congressional district.
Similar resolutions have already passed this year in North Carolina like in Mecklenburg County. In December 2020, a bill expired that essentially ended the state’s controversial 2016 HB2, commonly known as the bathroom bill. The Mecklenburg resolution specifically protects members of the LGBTQ community, while the Buncombe resolution is much more broad.
In 2016, Charlotte gave legal protections to the LGBTQ community, which prompted Republican lawmakers in the General Assembly to pass HB2, which nullified Charlotte’s ordinance among its many provisions.
Beach-Ferrara pointed to the Charlotte resolution as example of the long conversation outlined the history of greater protections from discrimination in North Carolina. Those who oppose the resolution say it is being pushed through.
Fewer than ten people called into Tuesday’s virtual meeting to speak against the resolution during public comment. They said that the bill was “unnecessary” and that it placed an undue burden on businesses and churches. Many referred to the resolution as a “SOGI law,” a Sexual Orientation & Gender Identity law, which they believe forces a “belief” in “LGBTQ+ values." This term became popularized after the Bostock v. Clayton County Supreme Court case in 2020 which expanded LGBTQ+ protections.
One caller, Karen Hoerner, said she was born in Buncombe County and worked in healthcare in the county for many years.
“This is an overreach of a governing body to institute a perceived bias on a community,” said Hoerner.
Tina White, executive director of Blue Ridge Pride, says she still receives questions from LGBTQ folks asking if it is safe to move to Asheville. She points out that the majority of the resolution is about exemptions and protections for employers.
“They’re protected. And now they are working that protecting other people from discrimination is going to hurt them? I can’t think of a better example of privilege,” said White, who worked as a corporate consultant for 35 years.
Showcasing her support of the measure, Beach-Ferrara referenced an Asheville Chamber of Commerce survey of its members. Over 60-percent of respondents said they had ‘no worry at all’ about the ordinance and almost 80 percent said the ordinance wouldn’t affect their business’ private employment or public accommodations. The survey had almost 200 respondents out of over 1,500 recipients of the survey. There were also almost 100 requests for more information from business owners.
The amended resolution is scheduled to be voted on during commissioner’s next meeting April 20th.