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Winston-Salem City Council may consider LGBT-rights ordinance
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Winston-Salem City Council may consider LGBT-rights ordinance


Winston-Salem may join a growing number of North Carolina cities in passing an ordinance that would give people rights based on sexual orientation, gender identity and other differences.

The city's committee on general government could take up the discussion during its February session, although some council members and City Manager Lee Garrity said nothing's likely to be rushed through.

"We have started looking at what we can or can't do," said Council Member Kevin Mundy of Southwest Ward, who is pushing for the measure. "There are all sorts of hurdles. Our city attorney wants to make sure that if we do create an ordinance, it will stand up in court."

Mundy is the first openly gay member of the city council. He said during his campaign for office that he would make sure LGBT issues got city attention.

The city ordinance could include public accommodation measures that would, for example, require a local business that recently turned down hosting a same-sex marriage to reverse course and host such an event in the future.

The Warehouse on Ivy, a wedding and event center in downtown Winston-Salem, in December told a couple, Kasey Mayfield and Brianna May, that it could not host their wedding because the business does not host same-sex ceremonies.

Daniel Stanley, the operator of the event center, cited religious objections to hosting the wedding.

Although the two women expressed shock and disappointment, they also said they wouldn't legally contest the business's decision. 

Garrity said a lot of things have to be looked at in putting together a city ordinance. For instance, the city would have to look at how city health insurance policies might have to change.

Would the city cover gender reassignment surgery in health coverage? Garrity said the city would have to see how other cities are responding to those kinds of questions, he said.

Garrity said current city ordinances include employment protections for gays, but don't say anything about gender identity.

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Questions would also have to be answered about penalties and enforcement: Some places, Garrity said, are making violations a civil matter, but Hillsborough made violations a criminal offense.

Mundy said whatever the city does will be "slower and more deliberate" than what has gone on elsewhere in the state.

Some social conservatives have said in advance of votes in other cities that broad LGBT non-discrimination ordinances would violate the constitutionally protected free speech and religious liberties of non-profit and business owners who hold sincerely held beliefs in opposition to gay marriage. Court cases elsewhere have involved bakers or florists cited for refusing to provide goods for a same-sex wedding.

Mundy said most ordinances have religious exemptions that would cover areas like church employment, but "when it comes to public accommodations, I don't think they will have the right to turn the (customers) down because they are gay."

When the state replaced the controversial "bathroom bill," HB2, in 2017, it approved a replacement law that forbade local governments from enacting new nondiscrimination ordinances until Dec. 1, 2020.

Since then, Orange County and the municipalities of Carrboro, Chapel Hill, Durham, Greensboro and Hillsborough have passed LGBT-rights ordinances.

HB2, passed in March 2016, said that people were required to use the bathroom that corresponded to their sex as listed on their birth certificates. The law set off a storm of controversy that raged for months and caused some companies to halt plans to move to the state or expand operations.

The Winston-Salem City Council passed a resolution that April which called on the state to repeal HB2, although the resolution had no legal weight.

When former Winston-Salem City Council Member Dan Besse proposed in 2017 that the city pass a "Welcoming City" resolution on unauthorized immigration, state lawmakers met with city council members and made ominous warnings that the city could face retribution from state lawmakers if it passed what was seen as a "sanctuary city" resolution in all but name.

Besse couldn't get the votes for the resolution on the council, and had to settle for a statement issued by like-minded citizens meeting at City Hall.

Mundy said that while he's not gotten any opposition from other council members or city staff for an LGBT ordinance, city leaders are conscious of not trying for too much too fast.

"They are very aware that if we go too far, there are other ways the General Assembly could take out their displeasure on us," Mundy said. "We want to do it so that by helping one group of people, we don't hurt the city."

Mayfield said she and May are "ecstatic" that that city is looking at an anti-discrimination ordinance, but still wouldn't be pushing for the Warehouse on Ivy to host their wedding.

"The hope is that this will stop discrimination on a lot of other levels that are bigger for queer people — not being discriminated against for housing, jobs or health care," she said.

The Associated Press contributed to this report



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