Charlotte City Council voted 7-3 Monday night to go ahead with a Feb. 22 public hearing and vote on adding LGBT protections to the non-discrimination ordinance. The meeting included an overview of what the ordinance would do, similar to the one presented by city attorney Bob Hagemann at last week’s forum discussing the ordinance, which drew over 200 community members.
Mayor Jennifer Roberts and council members also discussed the legality of adding the protections, which would make it illegal for businesses to refuse service based on sexual orientation, gender identity and gender expression and permit transgender individuals to use public restrooms and locker rooms that correlate to their gender identity. It would not affecting hiring practices.
Presented under the header “Enabling Authority,” it was stated, “If Charlotte lacks authority to prohibit discrimination based on the contemplated characteristics, it did not have the authority to prohibit discrimination based on race, color, religion and national origin in 1968, and sex in 1972.”
— John Autry (@AutryJohn) February 8, 2016
Republican state Rep. Dan Bishop, who is running for a Senate seat, has been vocal about the ordinance, suggesting it might provoke a response from the legislature should it pass. Bishop floated the idea of giving Charlotte voters a chance to overturn it with a referendum, like occurred recently in Houston.
City staff presented a survey of several cities who have recently passed LGBT non-discrimination ordinances, such as Atlanta, Orlando, San Antonio and Columbus. It showed that very few issues have been reported.
— Litsa Pappas (@LitsaPappas) February 8, 2016
Fallon says she will vote yes, by leaving dais
Democrat Claire Fallon says she will vote yes for the ordinance, by leaving the dais. A council member who leaves the dais before a vote is counted as a yes vote.
“No one should be discriminated against,” she said.
Fallon did not support the full ordinance last year, but did vote for an amended version which removed the transgender bathroom and locker room provisions. She claimed that she had been vilified, unfairly blamed for last year’s failure.
“They dragged me through the mud,” Fallon said of the LGBT community.
Driggs questions process
Council member Ed Driggs questioned the process, stating that he believed it was rushed and was going to cause more hostility and divisiveness.
“The bottom line that we’re talking about is an uncompromising adoption of something that it totally geared towards the needs of one group and does not reflect in any way the reservations of other people,” said Driggs, WBTV News reports.
“I recall there were some 39,000 emails that we got last year. That’s a loud voice. I heard it. It didn’t make much difference to me because I understand the fact we live in a country we need to treat all people equally,” council member Al Austin responded.
Mayor Jennifer Roberts also took issue with the characterization.
“I resent your implication that we are not listening to people when we had hundreds of conversations and we have hundreds of ways of communicating,” Roberts said.
Smith asks for proof of discrimination
“How many cases do we have of the groups that are looking to be included into this anti-discrimination ordinance on an annual basis?” Council member Kenny Smith asked.
“We will get calls from groups who might allege they are victims of discrimination based upon sexual orientation, however, we have no legal authority to provide redress for those complaints so we actually don’t track them,” Wille Ratchford, executive director of the Charlotte-Mecklenburg Community Relations Committee, answered. “We get probably a dozen complaints a year in which folks allege they’ve been victims of fair housing discrimination or discrimination in terms of access to public accommodations.”
Mayor Roberts added that the LGBT business community had conducted a survey and found over 150 such incidents of discrimination, and highlighted one case in which a couple was denied a hotel room three different times.
Opponents hold press conference ahead of meeting
Opponents of the ordinance held a press conference before the meeting, seizing on the same anti-trans fear mongering around the bathroom issue that took center stage here last year as well as in the referendum over Houston’s protections. They held up signs reading “Keep Women Safe,” “Don’t Do It Charlotte” and “No Men In Women’s Showers.”
Pastor Mark Harris stood in front of other religious leaders and business owners who oppose adding LGBT protections to the ordinance, clutching a stack of signatures of people who are likewise against the expansion.
“It’s common sense to prevent men from entering women’s restrooms,” Harris said.
The City Council did not hear from community members during the meeting, although there were many in attendance. There will be public comments ahead of the vote on Feb. 22.