NBC Charlotte public affairs show debates LGBT protections

Councilmember Michael Barnes again outlines opposition, with Councilmember David Howard saying he'll continue to talk to both sides, vote his conscience on proposals

CHARLOTTE, N.C. — A leading City Council member opposed to proposed LGBT-inclusive non-discrimination ordinances again outlined his opposition to the measures this morning on “Flashpoint,” a weekly Sunday morning public affairs show aired by NBC Charlotte.

Democratic at-large Councilmember Michael Barnes has been among the most outspoken against the proposed ordinance changes, which would add sexual orientation and gender identity, among other, characteristics to four city non-discrimination ordinances, including a public accommodations measure.

Organizers with the Charlotte Non-Discrimination Ordinance Coalition have stressed that the ordinances would offer protections in a variety of areas, including taxicabs, restaurants, hotels and in commercial contracting by the city. But opponents like Barnes have grasped onto fear tactics shared by anti-LGBT religious advocacy groups painting transgender persons’ use of public restrooms as a threat.

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Barnes said on the Sunday show that he continues to be opposed to the proposals, citing “dozens and dozens of emails” he received this week.

“They’ve come under three general categories,” Barnes said of the emails, including parents who don’t want “adults of the opposite sex in the same bathroom as my kids,” women who “don’t want men in the same bathroom I’m in” and those citing their religious and biblical beliefs against the ordinance.

Barnes also pushed back against the criticism he received during the Feb. 9 vote to advance the proposal. Barnes voted against placing the proposals on the Council’s Feb. 23 agenda.

“Unfortunately, people were being demonized if they disagreed with the proposal, which was unfortunate,” Barnes said.

2011 Republican mayoral candidate Scott Stone, also a guest on Sunday’s show, echoed Barnes’ opposition.

“The fact that Council is debating this shows, I think, how liberal the Council has become over the last few years,” Stone said. “This is clearly out of the mainstream of what the average voter is looking for in Charlotte. They are not looking for this ordinance. I think there will be a backlash if Council approves it.”

Barnes agreed with Stone and said he wants the city to focus on other issues.

“We should be focusing on job creation, public safety, the things that make Charlotte strong,” he said.

But, Scott Bishop, chair of the Mecklenburg LGBT Political Action Committee, and one of several in a coalition supporting the ordinances, said Barnes is failing to connect the dots between LGBT-inclusive efforts, public safety and economic development.

“I found it interesting that in relation to the upcoming non-discrimination vote, Michael Barnes said that Charlotteans are more interested in economic development and public safety, but he didn’t make the connection that these ordinances impact both,” Bishop told qnotes in response to Barnes’ Sunday-morning comments. “Charlotte is behind the times when it comes to offering these protections. All cities larger than Charlotte and many more smaller than Charlotte have had these protections in place for years with no reported public safety issues.”

Bishop added, “Michael seems to exclude the public safety concerns of trans citizens who are far more often the victims of violence and he places more focus on the bogeyman he thinks is out there waiting to take advantage of this updated law.”

Barnes was also joined on the show by at-large Democratic colleague David Howard, who said the upcoming vote would be “probably one of the toughest votes I’ll have to take.”

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“I’ve heard people talk about transgender men not being safe in the men’s restroom,” Howard said, mistakenly referring to transgender women as “men,” but adding, “I get that, but, at the same time, I’ve heard form the same side that Michael spoke about. I am a father. I am a husband. I have all those same titles. This will be a difficult one.”

Howard, who hasn’t yet said how he’ll vote on the measure, did vote on Feb. 9 to advance it to the Council’s Feb. 23 agenda.

“I’m going to continue to talk to both sides and I’m going to vote my conscience that night,” he said on the show.

Howard also reminded Stone and Barnes that local officials are elected to represent everyone.

“We represent everybody,” he said. “They work here. They buy things here. We get sales tax from everybody. We have to be, I think, compassionate about all of that, and I plan to do that as much as I can. I’m not sure how I’m going to vote, but we need to do that.”

The “Flashpoint” debate did not feature any openly LGBT voices, though NBC Charlotte did re-air its earlier report featuring local transgender advocate Paige Dula prior to the discussion.

qnotes has asked “Flashpoint” host and NBC Charlotte anchor Dave Wagner why no openly LGBT leaders or voices were invited onto the show. In a short statement via email, Wagner said this week’s show was focused on mayoral candidates and their positions. They had invited all announced candidates to participate in the show, but also thought the non-discrimination ordinance was important to include.

“I thought it was important to include the non-discrimination measure among the many topics we discussed,” Wagner said.

Wagner added, “We will continue to discuss the non-discrimination issue. While today’s show was for the mayoral candidates and a broader discussion about issues facing Charlotte, there are many more shows to come and I’m always open to your ideas.”

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Posted by Matt Comer

Matt Comer previously served as editor from October 2007 through August 2015 and as a staff writer afterward in 2016.