Candidate Questionnaire: Equality NC

1. Equal Rights

I believe that all citizens, including lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and queer (LGBTQ) people, are deserving of equal treatment under the law, access to the same opportunities and subject to the same responsibilities, regardless of their age, race, nationality, immigration status, ability, gender, socioeconomic status, sexual orientation, gender identity or expression, or other inherent characteristics.

Yes.

Please explain your answer:

Hard to believe this is a controversial opinion, but it clearly still is one, given the national debate over transgender service in the military, rights to use the bathroom corresponding to gender identity, and broader assaults on protections for minority groups and on the right of citizens to seek legal redress for discrimination. Asheville isn’t immune in this regard. I believe city government has a critical role to play in modeling appropriate protections for LGBTQ, immigrant, differently-abled and minority citizens, and in pushing back against state laws curbing those protections (some would say, explicitly endorsing discrimination,) including in court. Count me in on the fight for full equality for all.

2. Non-Discrimination

a. Public Employment: In North Carolina, it is legal to fire or refuse to hire someone just because they are lesbian, gay, bisexual, queer, heterosexual or transgender. Polls have shown that 74% of North Carolinians support legislation that would ban employment discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity or expression by state and local governments as employers. (1) Contrary provisions of HB142 notwithstanding, would you support such a provision at the local level?

Yes.

Please explain your answer:

Again, it is up to local governments to be models of governance, model employers, and champions of the people’s will. I would be open to legal action against the HB142/HB2, or legal arguments that the city can go ahead and take action even under the current law.

b. Public accommodations: North Carolina law does not currently prohibit public accommodations, such as restaurants and hotels, from denying service to customers on the basis of sexual orientation or gender identity or expression. Contrary provisions of HB142 notwithstanding, would you support protections for LGBTQ people in public accommodations?

Yes.

Please explain your answer:

For a cisgender white person, it can be difficult, if not impossible, to imagine what it would be like to be denied service due to some inborn, intrinsic characteristic like sexual orientation or gender identity. (Though it may help to remember that denying service to black patrons in the Jim Crow-era South was one of the main ways whites expressed blacks’ status as second-class citizens.) A business that refuses customers based on any status or identity doesn’t deserve to keep its doors open. I would support any ordinance granting or affirming equal right to service in public accommodations, before repeal of HB142 if legally possible, and would certainly move – even under HB142 – to exclude businesses known to discriminate from any city contract or taxpayer dollar.

c. Contrary provisions of HB142 notwithstanding, do you believe that transgender and gender nonconforming individuals should be able to use the restroom that best conforms with their gender identity and expression?

Yes.

Please explain your answer:

Appeals to safety concerns over transgender bathroom use have been thoroughly debunked. There is simply no rational argument against a transgender person being allowed to use the restroom that is most comfortable and most closely matches their gender identity.

3. Marriage Equality

a. Marriage Equality is the law of North Carolina as of 10/10/14 and the law of the entire nation after 6/26/15. Did you support marriage equality before these rulings?

Yes.

Please explain your answer:

I have never in my life held any other view on marriage equality.

b. Will you work to protect full access to marriage equality for same-sex couples in your community and in North Carolina?

Yes.

Please explain your answer:

I would be particularly diligent in opposing religious exemption statutes for public servants, in WNC and elsewhere. There is no place in a society founded on pluralism and tolerance for a government representative to claim a religious objection to equal provision of service.

c. Magistrate Recusal: Federal court appeals notwithstanding, Senate Bill 2 allows for magistrates and registers of deed to "opt-out" of performing marriages if doing so would violate their religious beliefs. This bill is discriminatory not only to lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and queer individuals, but is harmful against all North Carolinians. Do you support Senate Bill 2 or other local or statewide measures allowing civil servants to opt out of portions of their job?

No.

Please explain your answer:

See my previous answer. Again, denying service is the primary way empowered majorities have reinforced minority groups’ second-class status through history, from Jim Crow on. I do not believe that being asked to treat all comers equally as a government official, in accordance with the Constitution, amounts to religious discrimination against those who harbor anti-gay or anti-some other identity views. They would do better to find another job with less public interaction.

4. Issues that disproportionately affect transgender people

a. Anti-violence initiatives: Transgender and gender non-conforming people, particularly transgender women of color, face disproportionately high levels of violence, including hate crime violence, street violence and intimate partner violence. How would you work to address this epidemic of violence?

I would first work to make sure Asheville Police Department’s training to respond to transgender victims of crime is robust and ongoing. I would strengthen community health services’ capacity in handling and reporting crimes against transgender/gender non-conforming people, with the knowledge that community health centers are the primary healthcare venue for these and overlapping at-risk populations. I would devote resources to awareness and safe-space campaigns particularly targeted at trans victims of harassment and violence.

b. Law enforcement: Transgender and gender non-conforming people, particularly transgender women of color, have disproportionately high rates of negative interaction with police, which leads to fear of approaching police when victimized. How would you work to address discrimination in law enforcement?

See my previous answer. Fear of approaching law enforcement is certainly a driving factor behind the high rate of violence against transgender persons. Ongoing training is a first step, but I would also empower the police chief and give her the resources to very thoroughly root out problem officers. I would want to focus especially on overlapping at-risk populations, such as transgender immigrants and transgender homeless people.

c. Identity documents: A 2015 survey of transgender North Carolinians shows that 77% have not been able to update any identity documents. Do you support modernizing local court procedures to clarify where possible in compliance with applicable state law in order to clarify and simplify court procedures that allow transgender people to update their name and gender marker?

Yes.

Please explain your answer:

This is not, as far as I know, a city council issue. But I would support it in any way that I can.

d. Immigration: Transgender immigrants have greater difficulty obtaining basic identification documents. Do you support access for undocumented immigrants to basic identification at the municipal level that reflects their lived name and gender?

Yes.

Please explain your answer:

To the extent that such an option exists (e.g., a public housing ID, city utility billing name and salutation, etc.), the city should be modeling respecting and validating the identities of its residents.

5. Youth and Education

a. Sex Education: In 2009, the legislature passed H.B. 88, the Healthy Youth Act. This law allows parents of public school students to choose between "abstinence only" sex education programs and comprehensive programs that emphasize abstinence while providing students with accurate information about contraception and disease prevention. Would you support the continued implementation of the Healthy Youth Act and oppose attempts to weaken the sexual health education curriculum?

No and yes.

Please explain your answer:

I believe the community is only served by more comprehensive sex ed. As a parent of four school-age kids, I’m resistant to the idea that parents should be allowed to "opt out" of necessary learning on their kids’ behalf. The law should be protected from attempts to weaken it, certainly, but if I have the chance to support a more comprehensive law without "opt out" provision, I certainly will.

b. Discriminatory Schools: North Carolina law currently allows taxpayer money to fund private and religion-based schools that discriminate against LGBTQ children and/or their parents. Would you vote for legislation that excludes these schools from taxpayer funding?

Yes.

Please explain your answer:

Taxpayer dollars should only support schools that are open to all.

c. Reducing the School-to-Prison Pipeline: How would you work to address the disproportionate number of LGBTQ young people who are pulled out of school for disciplinary violations and end up in the adult prison system?

I support raising the age to eighteen. I would move the school system to end legal penalties for most if not all school offenses and removing CROs from all non-safety interactions in the classroom, appointing reformers to the city school board to see things through. I would especially focus on threats to LGBTQ students through ongoing faculty and student training.

d. Anti-Conversion Therapy Measures: Do you support measures that would deem conversion therapy for minors to be fraudulent or deceptive trade practices and acts?

Yes, and frequently cruel and inhumane, to boot.

6. Sponsorship of Ordinances

Contrary provisions of HB142 notwithstanding, would you be willing to sponsor or co-sponsor ordinances addressing any of the issues outlined above?

Yes.

Please explain your answer:

I’m especially excited about legal remedies under the current law, such as a recent white paper suggesting that a city like Asheville could move forward on a nondiscrimination ordinance even under current law. One thing I would like to be clear on at the outset is that I would like such ordinances to be moved as part of a comprehensive strategy by LGBTQ rights groups such as Equality NC and our hometown Campaign for Southern Equality. Given Asheville’s status as a lightning rod for adverse state legislation, I wouldn’t want to proceed rashly or against the judgment of longtime activist groups in the community. That said, anything they say to proceed on, count me in.