CHARLOTTE, N.C. — Several members and supporters of local and national LGBT groups visited the local office of U.S. Rep. Robert Pittenger on Thursday morning taking with them 30,000 petitions asking the elected leader to support measures to protect LGBT workers from discrimination.
The Human Rights Campaign, the nation’s largest LGBT civil rights organization, was joined by representatives from Equality North Carolina, the Charlotte Business Guild, Charlotte Black Gay Pride and constituents from Pittenger’s district.
“We are here to deliver a message to Rep. Pittenger that no North Carolinian and, indeed, no American should be denied a job opportunity, fired or discriminated against just because of their sexual orientation or gender identity,” HRC Board of Directors member and Pittenger constituent Scott Bishop told media.
The petition drop, including 1,200 from North Carolina and 146 from Pittenger’s district, comes after progressive blog ThinkProgress and others reported Pittenger’s remarks that the ability to fire gays is one of the “freedoms we enjoy,” much like smoking on private property.
Pittenger made the comments to a Alice Ollstein, a reporter from ThinkProgress. After a Ballantyne town hall meeting this month, he compared the ability to fire gays to smoking bans.
“Do you ban smoking or do people have the right to private property? I think people have the right to private property,” Pittenger told Ollstein. “In public spaces, absolutely, we can have smoking bans. But we don’t want to micromanage people’s lives and businesses. If you have a business, do you want the government to come in and tell you you need to hire somebody? Why should government be there to impose on the freedoms we enjoy?”
Bishop and others want Pittenger to support LGBT-inclusive anti-discrimination measures like the Employment Non-Discrimination Act.
“Rep. Pittenger’s ill-informed opinion is not consistent with the fair-minded opinion of most Americans, as evidenced by these petitions,” Bishop said. “A vast majority of Americans, including North Carolinians, back commonsense workplace protections for LGBT citizens and with these petitions we’re asking Rep. Pittenger and other elected officials to act quickly to pass inclusive workplace protections for LGBT citizens.”
Equality North Carolina’s Crystal Richarson said the public’s message was clear.
“[Pittenger] Staffers have commented that they received no negative comments regarding these anti-LGBT statements,” Richardson said. “We’re here today because that’s simply not true. We have over 30,000 petitions from Americans, including North Carolinians and those in Pittenger’s district saying they will not stand for discrimination against LGBT workers.”
Pittenger has defended his remarks to media outlets, including The Charlotte Observer. His office has also said they’ve received no negative calls about the comments.
A typed statement from Pittenger was distributed by his staff to media and those present for the petition drop on Thursday morning. In it, Pittenger said the free market has already “spoken loudly on the issue of workplace discrimination,” citing the Human Rights Campaign’s figures that nearly 90 percent of Fortune 500 companies already protect gay and lesbian workers.
“Generally, the government is best at messing up whatever arena it becomes involved in,” Pittenger’s statement reads. “Our free market and free society continues to actively address the issue of workplace discrimination, which is really a matter of the heart, and I do not believe additional government intervention would be helpful or advisable. That’s why, along with a few hundred other colleagues in the House and Senate, I oppose the Employee [sic] Non-Discrimination Act, which is bad legislation.”
Pittenger added, “Throughout my adult life, I have had an open, non-discriminatory policy toward all, and at various times have employed people with different viewpoints and lifestyles, including homosexual orientation. Government intervention is not the best solution for matters of the heart. Hiring decisions should be based on the merits of the individual.”
Constituent access questioned
The petition drop on Thursday was nearly stopped when constituents were approached by an employee of the private property management company which oversees the building in which Pittenger’s Charlotte district office is located.
Erin Wemple, an employee of Brackett Flagship Properties, exited the building as the group of about a dozen constituents gathered outside the entrance before their petition drop. Wemple informed the group that the building was considered private property and that only two people would be allowed to enter the building and access Pittenger’s office. The rest, she said, would need to move to the public sidewalk.
This writer asked Wemple for clarification, and if she truly meant to limit constituents’ access to their local congressional office. Wemple said she was attempting to ensure other tenants could have access to the building and would not be disturbed.
Wemple eventually relented and allowed members of the media and nearly all of the constituents to enter the building and Pittenger’s office.
A call to Brackett Flagship Properties and a request for clarification on their property’s policies was not returned at press time.
A statement of disbursements and office expenses from the U.S. House of Representatives shows that Pittenger spent $3,958.03 and $1,200 each month during the second quarter this year on his district offices in Charlotte and Mooresville.