CHARLOTTE, N.C. — Transgender NASCAR, football and baseball fans can now feel a tad bit safer the next time they head out to the old ball game or raceway, after attempts by a local transgender activist to get large local sports venues to clarify their policies or practices on access to restrooms.
The venues — Charlotte Motor Speedway in Concord, N.C., the Carolina Panthers’ Bank of America Stadium and the Charlotte Knights’ BB&T Ballpark — have all clarified their practices, affirming that transgender patrons can use the restrooms consistent with their gender identity.
Which restrooms used by transgender people has been a hot-button issue nationally, as well as locally. The topic became the center of controversy in February and March, as City Council prepared to vote on an LGBT-inclusive public accommodations ordinance. That ordinance and several others were ultimately voted down on March 2.
But local activist Janice Covington Allison has since taken matters into her own hands — to both local government and in the private sector.
After the Council vote — where she and a teenaged transgender girl were confronted by anti-gay activists when they attempted to use a government center restroom — Allison sought and received clarification from the city. City Manager Ron Carlee later said transgender people may use the restroom consistent with their gender identity in city owned buildings — including the government center, Bojangles’ Coliseum, Charlotte-Douglas International Airport, the convention center and others.
“Since I was on a roll with the city and the airport and Bojangles’ Coliseum, I figured I was on a roll, so let me try some other people,” Allison said.
Allison first reached out to Bank of America Stadium. In early June, they responded.
“After 20 years of operations, we undoubtedly have had transgender persons attend events here and, presumably, they have used the restroom of the gender with which they identify,” the stadium’s director of operations, Scott Paul, wrote in a June 8 email. “Bank of America has facilities for women and men, and we have family/unisex restrooms throughout the stadium for attendees with small children or for those who desire more privacy. Please plan to use the facilities in which you feel most comfortable.”
A similar affirming response came from BB&T Ballpark.
“The Knights do not have a policy concerning restroom access for transgender patrons,” Charlotte Knights Executive Vice President/COO Dan Rajkowski wrote in a June 29 email. “Patrons are free to choose restrooms at BB&T Ballpark based on their gender identity.”
And, most recently, Allison received another response from Charlotte Motor Speedway, where Allison says she worked for more than 20 years — first on maintenance staff and then as a fire coordinator, teaching motorsports safety.
“All persons are welcome at Charlotte Motor Speedway,” the venue’s Guest Services department wrote in a letter dated July 17. “We do not have a specific restroom policy and we do monitor the facilities for orderly conduct. If you plan to join us for an event, please use the restroom for the gender with which you identify.”
The letters received by Allison are posted at the end of this article.
Allison says the responses are important — showing that local businesses don’t want to discriminate against patrons.
“They are business people,” she said. “They are in the business of public entertainment — the NFL, baseball and NASCAR. To turn away a segment of your fan base isn’t productive.”
And LGBT fans, she said, deserve to know they will be safe and welcome in public venues’ facilities.
“People who are transgender or LGBT, we are football fans, too,” she said. “We want to go see the football game.”
But that leaves out smaller businesses or those opposed to the proposed changes in March. Some well-known businesses — including local restaurant chain Nobles Restaurants and Vision Ventures, a large real estate development company that once owned Uptown’s EpiCentre and currently owns Ballantyne Village — had signed a public letter to Council in February opposing LGBT-inclusive public accommodations ordinances.
Scott Bishop, chair of the Mecklenburg LGBT Political Action Committee, said the news from the sports venues is encouraging.
“A lot of our large corporations already have that in place, like Bank of America and Wells Fargo,” he said. “This just expands that out.”
Bishop, whose organization was part of a coalition that originally sought the Charlotte non-discrimination ordinances, said the large venues’ new positions will be a positive sign if or when local non-discrimination ordinances are brought back to City Council. The coalition — comprised of several local groups, including the Charlotte Business Guild, LGBT Democrats of Mecklenburg County, Equality North Carolina, the ACLU and others — intend to revive the ordinance debate after this fall’s Council elections.
Bishop also praised Allison’s strategy.
“I think she’s being smart in doing this,” he said. “These are now public letters. It just shows all the rhetoric we heard back when we had the non-discrimination vote really was a non-issue.”
Transgender people, he said, will use restrooms consistent with their gender identity with no ill-effect are harm – as has been shown in other cities and companies with transgender-inclusive protections in public accommodations or public facilities. Scare tactics and claims of predators using inclusive policies for ill-will are a “smokescreen,” he said.
A message and email left for Charlotte Motor Speedway’s vice president of communications, Scott Hooper, were not returned on Wednesday. It’s not clear if the racetrack’s transgender-inclusive practices extend only to its Charlotte venue or others. Speedway Motorsports, Inc., based in Concord, N.C., owns eight tracks, including Charlotte, Atlanta Motor Speedway, Las Vegas, Bristol and Texas.
Read the letters
Click on the thumbnails below to read the letters from the sports venues.