The Charlotte City Council voted Monday, Feb. 22, to expand the city’s non-discrimination ordinance to include protections for sexual orientation and gender identity and expression, after over three hours of public comments.
City Council voted 7-4 to approve adding LGBT protections to the ordinance, which already prohibits discrimination based on gender, race, age and religious affiliation.
Council members Al Austin, John Autry, Patsy Kinsey, Julie Eiselt, Vi Lyles, James Mitchell and LaWana Mayfield all voted in favor of expanding the ordinance. Republicans Ed Driggs and Kenny Smith voted against, as did Democrats Greg Phipps and Claire Fallon. Fallon had earlier stated that she would vote for the motion by leaving the dais, which results in a yes vote.
Fallon claimed that only the pro-ordinance side was heard from, despite dozens of anti-ordinance speakers stating their case, and said that she could not vote yes when she felt there was still so much confusion and fear over the transgender bathroom issue.
The ordinance failed to pass last year, with a 6-5 vote against, but new members Eiselt and Mitchell were able to tip the balance in favor.
There were 140 individuals signed up to speak on both sides of the issue and nearly all were present. The majority spoke out against passing the ordinance. Those from outside of Charlotte were even more lopsided against, which Driggs pointed out in his statement before voting no, claiming the city council should listen more closely to those outside city limits.
Driggs said he might vote for an ordinance that did not include the transgender protections. That was attempted last year with an amendment, but failed to pass when Mayfield and Autry voted against, saying they did not want to leave any member of the LGBT community behind. Driggs also voted no on the amended ordinance expansion.
Many of those speaking against expanding the ordinance also voiced concerns over allowing transgender people to use the bathrooms and locker rooms consistent with their identity, claiming it would put women and girls at risk, despite there being no evidence of that happening in cities that have passed similar ordinances.
Many evoked God, Jesus and the Bible. Several speakers told Mayor Roberts and City Council members that they need to “turn away from sin” and accept Jesus Christ.
Steve Knight, pastor at Missiongathering Charlotte, spoke in favor of the ordinance and said that he noticed a lot of people quoting from the Bible, but not so many quoting Jesus and his message of love and acceptance.
This was a sentiment mirrored by transgender pastor Debra Hopkins.
“I believe that God calls on all of us to come together as one body. To be able to live in harmony…with mankind, one with another,” Hopkins said, calling on the city to provide the same rights and protections that other Charlotteans enjoy.
Mayor Roberts had to stop several times throughout the night to ask for decorum, as those in attendance clapped, yelled out and otherwise showed signs of their support or lack thereof for what was being said at the podium.
When the vote was cast and the ordinance passed the audience erupted with both delight and displeasure.
This may set the stage for a battle with the state.
Council member Driggs sent an email to Gov. McCrory on Sunday asking what he thought of the ordinance. The former Charlotte mayor said that if the ordinance passes it will “most likely cause immediate state legislative intervention.”
“It is not only the citizens of Charlotte that will be impacted by changing basic restroom and locker room norms but also citizens from across our state and nation who visit and work in Charlotte,” McCrory said in the email. “This shift in policy could also create major public safety issues by putting citizens in possible danger from deviant actions by individuals taking improper advantage of a bad policy.”
Watch the video below to see the reaction when the vote was cast and the ordinance passed.