The Greensboro City Council, at it Tuesday, Jan. 19 meeting, passed a new nondiscrimination ordinance that includes prohibiting discrimination based on “sexual orientation, gender identity and gender expression.”

The vote was unanimous at the end of a long, loud, heated, emotional and accusatory discussion in which City Councilmember Justin Outling took on all comers and won.

There was never any doubt that the City Council would pass this secret ordinance that was listed on the agenda only as “Ordinance Amendment,” and the actual ordinance was only made available to the public a couple of hours before the meeting.  The City Council received the ordinance on Saturday, Jan. 16, which was one of the sticking points that Outling repeatedly mentioned.

Outling began by saying that he completely supported a nondiscrimination ordinance but noted that the councilmembers had zero business days to review and get questions answered about the ordinance, and the public had almost no time. 

He also said that the ordinance as written was all “symbolic and not substantive” because there were no penalties for violating the ordinance.  Outling recommended the City Council hold a work session on the ordinance to close loopholes, get public input and add penalties.  No one else spoke in favor of holding a work session on the ordinance.

There was a lot of discussion about whether the ordinance included penalties.  Mayor Nancy Vaughan said that a complaint would go to the Human Rights Commission to be handled.

But Outling noted that a person accused of violating the ordinance could not be forced to go through the process and the only action that the Human Rights Commission could take was to write a letter.

Vaughan said that people could be taken to court.

But City Attorney Chuck Watts agreed that there were no penalties for violating the ordinance because the legal department wasn’t told to include penalties.

Councilmember Michelle Kennedy and Vaughan both talked repeatedly about how long they had been working on the ordinance and how offended they were that Outling would come up with changes at the last minute.

Outling countered that by saying that is why the City Council holds work sessions and that he could not offer amendments to an ordinance that had not been written.

Apparently, the work on this ordinance was all done behind closed doors with no formal public input and without input from at least one councilmember, Outling.

Outling said, “Public participation means public participation on what the council votes on before the council votes on it.”

After much heated debate, Kennedy challenged Outling to go ahead and add penalties and Outling offered a friendly amendment to the ordinance to set the fine at $200.

Kennedy said, “I’m certainly in favor of the harshest penalties available. But I worried that we don’t have the power to enforce them.”

Outling noted that Durham, Chapel Hill and Carrboro had all passed similar ordinances with $500 fines as the penalty.

And that seemed to be the winning point.  Kennedy, who had made the motion said that she would accept Outling’s friendly amendment to add $500 fines for violations of the ordinance.

Then there was a lot of discussion about how much the North Carolina legislature hates Greensboro and the fear was expressed by Vaughan and several councilmembers that the legislature would take away Greensboro’s authority to implement the ordinance.

In the end, the ordinance with the friendly amendment from Outling to add $500 fines for violation of the ordinance passed unanimously, although Councilmember Goldie Wells said she still thought they should wait and have more discussion on the penalties.