RALEIGH, N.C. — After controversy over one leader’s anti-LGBT comments earlier this week, the North Carolina House of Representatives on Thursday passed a charter schools bill with modified non-discrimination protections advocates say will protect LGBT students from discrimination in charter schools admissions, despite having no specific enumerated protections included.
An amendment to the bill states that charter schools “shall not discriminate against any student with respect to any category protected under the United States Constitution or under federal law applicable to the states.”
The amendment, offered by Republican Rep. Nathan Ramsey (Buncombe) and supported by Republican Reps. David Lewis (Harnett) and Jon Hardister (Guilford), passed 115-0.
Some Democrats praised the re-worked non-discrimination provision.
“This amendment makes it clear that charter schools, just like public schools, cannot discriminate against anyone,” said Democratic Rep. Rick Glazier (Cumberland).
The move comes two days after House Speaker Pro Tempore Paul Stam (R-Wake) caused a stir when he distributed a handout during debate which compared homosexuality and other sexual orientations to sexual disorders like pedophilia and bestiality. Stam’s comments on Tuesday came after Rep. Susan Fisher (D-Buncombe) attempted to prohibit discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity.
Rep. Marcus Brandon (D-Guilford), the state’s only openly gay or lesbian legislator, had attempted Thursday to pass an amendment similar to Fisher’s and further clarifying the definition of sexual orientation and gender identity. His amendment was tabled and Ramsey’s generic non-discrimination amendment was later adopted.
Brandon spoke in favor of Ramsey’s amendment, saying, “One of the things I love about this place is when people come together to be able to make sure we are doing the right thing.”
But, Brandon also urged his colleagues to take a deeper look at discrimination.
“The bigger problem that we have is that the State of North Carolina — that I hope as I leave this body that you deal with when I leave — is that you still have a whole group of your citizens that are treated as second-class citizens,” Brandon said on the floor. “There are no protections really, except for federal law and statutes, for the LGBT community. I’m not going to rehash all of that, but I will let you know that regardless of how you feel about the situation, we still are Americans and, like I said before, still entitled to all the privileges thereof.”
One Democrat, however, took umbrage with non-enumerated language. Fisher, who had originally sought to add the protections Tuesday, said the new language wasn’t tough enough.
“While I appreciate the efforts Rep. Ramsey has made along with others here on our side of the aisle, I am still disappointed in the House,” Fisher said. “The reason is that we know if we read literature about discrimination practices that the more that you are able to delineate those populations of folks that are bullied or harassed the better the chances are they will not be bullied or harassed.”
Equality North Carolina said the modified non-discrimination provisions were a step in the right direction. Enumerated categories, they said, would have been better. In a statement, however, Equality North Carolina Executive Director Chris Sgro said the new provision would be interpreted to protect LGBT students.
“While we believe enumerated classes of protections for gay and transgender people as those proffered by Rep. Susan Fisher and Rep. Marcus Brandon this week represent the most successful and accountable forms of legislation, we celebrate the passage of a bipartisan amendment to charter school policies in North Carolina that, applying categories protected under the Constitution or federal law, we believe should ensure that gay and transgender students receive the protections they deserve in taxpayer-funded charter schools,” Sgro said in the statement.
Sgro added, “In addition, we interpret today’s bipartisan solution — proffered by Rep. Nathan Ramsey and supported by Democrats like Rep. Marcus Brandon and Rep. Rick Glazier — to provide sufficient basis to not only amend the state’s Opportunity Scholarship Program to make sure taxpayer money is never used to support private schools that discriminate, but also to revisit protections for hardworking gay and transgender North Carolinians in employment, housing and public accommodations.”
North Carolina public school students are generally protected from bullying and harassment by the 2009 School Violence Prevention Act, which includes several enumerated categories including sexual orientation and gender identity. That act, however, does not directly address discrimination or admissions by the state’s schools or charter schools, an issue addressed by the House-approved bill on Thursday.
The House’s version must now be heard in the state Senate.