Durham County set to vote on non-discrimination ordinance

Durham County commissioners will vote next week on an ordinance banning discrimination in public places and in the workplace.

“It’s always the right time to do the right thing,” said Joanne Pierce, the county’s health and well-being general manager, told the Durham County Board of Commissioners on Monday.

The resolution states, “discrimination and the tolerance of invidious discrimination is detrimental to the health, safety, and welfare of the citizens of Durham County.”

The county already protects its own employees. If passed, the new ordinance would protect all residents from discrimination based on age, disability, race, ethnicity, creed, color, sex, pregnancy, marital or familial status, sexual orientation, gender identity or expression, national origin or ancestry, military status, and religious belief or non-belief.

Chair Brenda Howerton said the board has been working on this resolution for “quite some time.”

Commissioner Wendy Jacobs said efforts toward drafting a resolution began in December 2020.

Other municipalities and counties across North Carolina have passed non-discrimination ordinances this year since a three-year state ban on such policies expired in December, The News & Observer reported.

Hair styles and types

Unlike Wake County and the city of Raleigh, which passed ordinances in October, Durham County’s planned language does not individually list protections for certain racial and ethnic hairstyles and hair types. Instead they are included in both the definitions for discrimination based on national origin and discrimination based on race.

Commissioner Nida Allam asked County Attorney Curtis Massey whether that was intentional, which he confirmed.

“When the decision was made to include and extend those protections (for hairstyle and texture), it seemed the best way to do that was by just including them in the definition of both of those categories,” Massey explained.

Commissioner Nimasheena Burns said that part of the resolution hit home personally.

With an anecdote about being mocked for wearing her hair naturally in an afro, she said that even women of color in important roles are subjected to discrimination for their physical appearance.

“As five women (on the board), we have a collective responsibility of thinking, ‘How can we build something that’s going to outlast all five of us,’” Burns said. “I hope you all will see this (resolution) as a move, a step in the right direction.”

Nonprofit Equality NC consulted with county leaders on the ordinance. It also worked with Wake County and Raleigh’s local governments on their resolutions.

The Durham County Board of Commissioners will vote on the proposed ordinance Monday, Nov. 8.

The Durham Report

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This story was originally published November 1, 2021 7:21 PM.

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Laura Brache is a reporter for The News & Observer in Raleigh, North Carolina, covering the effects of changing demographics on minority communities across the region. She is a multilingual, multimedia journalist from North Carolina who was born in Massachusetts and raised in the Dominican Republic.

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