Celeste Jones remembers moving to Raleigh to find happiness and “live an authentic life.”
“As a Black trans woman, it was extremely difficult to find a job,” Jones said Monday afternoon. “It often felt like people would give me one look and immediately refused to give me a chance, even though I was more than qualified for the jobs I was applying for. When I was able to find work I was often treated poorly, enduring sexual harassment and insults because of my race and gender identity.”
That discrimination is why she is so thankful to Wake County and Raleigh leaders for expanding protections for the LGBTQ community through a new non-discrimination ordinance.
Jones, who now works for Equality NC, was one of several speakers at a press conference Monday afternoon before the Wake County Board of Commissioners voted unanimously to approve the ordinance. The Raleigh City Council will vote on joining Wake County’s ordinance Tuesday afternoon.
“Our vote today is based on one simple principle: No one should be discriminated against because of who they are,” said Wake County Commissioners Chair Matt Calabria. “Life is hard enough without having to worry about whether you’re going to be denied service because of who you are, or who your date is. Life is hard enough without having to worry about whether your career prospects are going to be limited, for reasons having nothing to do with merit.”
He mentioned one constituent who praised Wake County for updating its ordinance.
“(She) said that she just felt so heartened by this ordinance, because she really wanted to put a picture of her family up on her desk at work without worrying about what the consequences would be,” Calabria said.
The ordinance will protect people regardless of their sexual orientation and gender expression in places open to the public, like stores, restaurants and hotels, or during hiring. Other protected classes include race, natural hair or hairstyles, ethnicity, creed, color, sex, pregnancy, marital or familial status, national origin or ancestry, National Guard or veteran status, religious belief or no-belief, age or disability.
Religious organizations are exempt from the ordinance, and bathrooms are not included in this ordinance, which is governed by state law.
The new ordinance goes into effect on Feb. 1, 2022, and applies to the unincorporated areas of the county. When municipalities join on through a resolution, like the Raleigh City Council plans to on Tuesday, it will apply in those municipal limits.
Since early this year municipalities and counties in North Carolina have expanded their non-discrimination ordinances after a three-year state ban expired in a law that replaced HB2.
“This is a major cause of celebration,” said Kendra Johnson, executive director of Equality NC. “And it shows what’s possible when communities come together, speak out and empower our elected officials to do the right thing.”
With the passage of this ordinance by Wake County and Raleigh, nearly one in three North Carolina residents will be covered by expanded protections. Apex was the first town in Wake County to expand its non-discrimination ordinance to include the LGBTQ community.
“This county commission will affirm that fairness and equality are the law of the land,” Calabria said. “We will demonstrate to businesses and employees and residents alike that we are the kind of place where everyone can live, work and raise a family because when each of us is dignified then all of us are dignified. Each of us is made stronger when all of us are made stronger. When you’re safe. I’m safe. When you thrive. I thrive. And so this is really a day to celebrate.”