Marching past the Queen City

On February 9, the Asheville City Council voted 4-2 to begin a study of the costs and implementation of domestic partner benefits for LGBT city employees and their partners. Their move last week is quite similar to Mecklenburg County Commissioners’ strategy when first looking into the same issue back in January 2009. After a year of research, Mecklenburg officials voted in December to extend domestic partner benefits.

Of course, Mecklenburg’s decision didn’t come without the obligatory controversy from resident board conservative, Bill James. His “homo” remarks to fellow Commissioner Vilma Leake spawned calls for some sort of disciplinary action. Regardless, the benefits succeeded and will be offered starting in 2011.

Despite the county’s positive step forward, unhampered by the likes of James, elected leaders at the city level are still dragging their feet, even as Charlotte Mayor Anthony Foxx and some city council members tell local gay media and other news sources they’re looking at their options and in favor of benefits extensions and LGBT-inclusive non-discrimination policies.

What exactly are city leaders afraid of? What are they waiting for? There’s been no conservative backlash against the Mecklenburg Commissioners and the public has been pretty much forgotten the issue just two months later. If they’re afraid of voter retaliation, they shouldn’t be. In a 2008 Gallup poll, 89% of those surveyed said they believe gays and lesbians should have “equal rights in terms of job opportunities.”

And, as Charlotte continues on its path of inaction, 85% of Fortune 500 companies have already made the move to protect employees on the basis of sexual orientation. A third also protect on the basis of gender identity. Even the smallest of Tar Heel hamlets continue to march past the Queen City. Bessemer City, for example, with a population barely over 5,000, already includes sexual orientation in its employment policies.

One is forced to wonder: Just how long it will take Charlotte leadership to get their act together and get with the game?

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