CHARLOTTE, N.C. — As last-minute lobbying and outreach continues in advance of City Council’s Monday vote on LGBT-inclusive non-discrimination ordinances, the debate has attracted high-profile and notable statements of support and opposition from leading business people, organizations and political parties in the city.
Debate on the proposed protections, which would add sexual orientation and gender identity, among other characteristics, to four city non-discrimination ordinances, has resulted in thousands of emails, radio ads, robocalls and other lobbying efforts. Updates to the city’s public accommodations protections have attracted the most vocal opposition. Opponents have latched on to what LGBT advocates call scare tactics, attempting to link transgender people to sexual predators.
High-profile business owners opposed
In a letter on Friday, nearly 100 anti-LGBT religious leaders, activists and business owners asked Council to vote against the proposals.
Among the letter’s signers are several high-profile leaders, including Jim Noble, owner of several restaurants in Charlotte and Winston-Salem including Uptown’s Rooster’s and King’s Kitchen’s and Winston-Salem’s Noble’s Grille. Jim Riggins, president of large Charlotte IT company Technocom, is also a signer. Technocom’s clients have included the Charlotte Regional Partnership and Levine Properties. The company is also a sponsor of the Charlotte Hornets.
Also included in the opposition letter are the principal, Doug Stephan and vice president, Tim Hill, of Vision Ventures, a large real estate development company that once owned Uptown’s EpiCentre and currently owns Ballantyne Village.
Faith leaders and activists include Tami Fitzgerald, director of NC Values Coalition, the state’s leading anti-LGBT advocacy group. Fitzgerald has told local attorneys and political leaders that the ordinance, if passed, will be a “good way to bring in business” for local attorneys wanting to sue the city. Other religious leaders include First Baptist Church Pastor Mark Harris and Richard Land, president of Matthews’ Southern Evangelical Seminary and former president of the Southern Baptist Convention’s public policy arm, the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission.
Additionally, the Mecklenburg County Republican Party has also announced its opposition to the proposed ordinances. Council’s two Republican members, Kenny Smith and Ed Driggs, plan on voting against the measures. 2011 Republican mayoral candidate Scott Stone, who might run again for the position, said he was opposed to the ordinances on a local public affairs show two weeks ago.
“The fact that Council is debating this shows, I think, how liberal the Council has become over the last few years,” Stone said on NBC Charlotte’s “FlashPoint.” “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.”
Vocal anti-gay activists have also been involved, including street preacher Flip Benham and his twin sons, David and Jason. Dr. Michael Brown, a Concord-based anti-LGBT activist and theologian has also spoken out; members of his church and ministry school are also speaking out.
Like a list of Council speakers signed up to oppose the ordinances on Monday, many of those vocally opposing the measures do not live in Charlotte.
LGBT groups speaking out
As opponents flex their muscles with local religious leaders and anti-LGBT churches, LGBT community groups have been working to mobilize their supporters and are speaking out in favor of the ordinance changes.
Charlotte Pride, which produces the city’s annual LGBT Pride festival and parade, released a short statement on their Facebook page on Friday.
“Residents and visitors to our event and this great city deserve to know they will be safe and welcome when they spend their dollars here. We support a fair and equal city for all people,” the group said, pointing to their annual events’ tens of thousands of visitors and millions of dollars in local economic impact. On the same day, the released results from their first economic impact study, showing that out-of-town visitors to their 2014 event added nearly $8 million to the local economy.
Campus Pride, a national, Charlotte-based LGBT higher education and student advocacy group, has also spoken out.
“Fair and equal treatment without fear of discrimination is the path forward for all of our community. Young people today understand this and we must take action welcoming all citizens for future generations,” a statement from Campus Pride Executive Director Shane Windmeyer read.
Windmeyer added: “Campus Pride cares deeply about bettering our local Charlotte community – to be free of discrimination for all people for future generations. As part of our hometown community, we call on Charlotte’s Mayor Daniel Clodfelter and the Charlotte City Council to pass the LGBT inclusive non-discrimination ordinance and move our community forward.
LGBT-affirming faith leaders also released their own letter to City Council. Signed by about 40 religious leaders, the letter asks Council to support the ordinances.
“We write to you as clergy in the Charlotte community voice our unequivocal support of the Non-Discrimination Ordinances,” their letter read. “We also writ to you as parents, grandparents, elders, neighbors and community members who know that these ordinances will strengthen our community’s values, safety and wellbeing.”
Liberal politicians and groups are also supporting the ordinances. The Mecklenburg Democratic Party said it was “committed to ensuring — and fostering — equality and fair treatment for all people.”
The party added: “To that end, the Mecklenburg County Democratic Party (MCDP) urges the Charlotte City Council to support, unequivocally, the Non-Discrimination Ordinance on March 2, 2015. … Again, the officers of MCDP supports the spirit of the ordinance and passionately encourage all members to vote for its passage — especially our democratic members of the Council.”
Mayoral candidate Jennifer Roberts also previously spoke, as did Charlotte Mayor Dan Clodfelter, who had served on Council when the city first considered similar protections in 1992. That vote failed 7-4.
“I was on the losing side of this issue 22 years ago. … That’s a long time ago,” Clodfelter told Council on Feb. 9, when it voted to advance the current proposals. “I will say that I do hope to be on the winning side this time.”