On behalf of the Durham City Council I’d like to welcome you all to the 2016 Human Relations Commission Awards Ceremony. Tonight we will honor three members of our community who have committed their lives to the service of others and to making Durham a community where everyone can contribute, thrive, and feel welcome. These are people who embody the very best of what Durham can be, and whose efforts to create positive and lasting change in our community deserve our very highest level of acknowledgement and support.
At an event that focuses on human relations, I would be remiss in not mentioning one of the biggest challenges to our inclusive community – HB2. We all took a hit last month when our state legislature passed this bill, which among other things, limits the power of municipalities to ensure that people are not discriminated against based on sexual orientation, gender identity, or gender expression. The backlash against NC from across the nation has cost us hundreds of jobs and millions of dollars, with more canceled concerts, relocated conferences, and delayed corporate expansions announced each week.
Yet here in Durham, we can all be so proud that we live in a city where our governmental, economic, and educational institutions have used this as an opportunity to reiterate their commitment to diversity and support for the rights of the everyone in our community. Statements against this discriminatory legislation have been issued by the City Council, County Commission, Board of Education, Chamber of Commerce, Duke University, NC Central University, the Durham Bulls Organization, many more local organizations and businesses, and of course, our own Human Relations Commission. We are on record as a community that values diversity and inclusion and that opposes discrimination of any kind, and we will continue to work to make sure that ethic is part of our foundation as a city and as a community.
I think HB2 also gives us the opportunity to highlight just how important it us for us to have understanding and trust between different types of people in our community, the fostering of which is one of the most important goals of this commission. In addition to hurting LGBT people, HB2 also hurts workers, by forbidding municipalities and counties from setting higher minimum wages and labor standards. In fact, it hurts everyone, by taking away our right to sue in state court for discrimination claims. These two issues have gotten much less attention overall, and have absolutely nothing to do with which bathroom transgender people use. It’s clear to me that in this case, as has happened many times before, that people are capitalizing on our fear of those who are different to both mask and garner support for an even more destructive agenda, to the ultimate detriment of all of us. It’s much harder to take an action that hurts your neighbors when you know them, and their families and children. It’s much harder to misjudge, mischaracterize, and dehumanize everyone who belongs to a certain group, when you’ve had the opportunity to meet them, perhaps at a panel discussion or community event, hosted by our very own Human Relations Commission, that introduces you to people you may not otherwise have met, people who may be very different from you, and gives you the opportunity to explore our common humanity.
So I want to thank you all again for coming out tonight and for being involved in this important work to make Durham a place where we can all achieve our greatest potential, free from discrimination, and in partnership with neighbors from the many diverse communities that we are lucky to share our beautiful city with.
I would now like to introduce Commissioner Susan Austin, who will tell you a little bit about the Bull City Poetry Slam and introduce our first poet.