After Monday’s rejection of an expanded Charlotte ordinance for gay and transgender residents, LGBT activists said they would work to elect different City Council members this fall and try again for passage in the future.
Meanwhile, it’s possible conservatives could try to solidify their victory by turning to the General Assembly, which could make it impossible for Charlotte or any other municipality to pass similar nondiscrimination rules.
The 6-5 defeat Monday was not a clear-cut setback for including sexual orientation and gender identity and gender expression among protected classes in the city.
The six votes came only after two liberal council members – John Autry and LaWana Mayfield – joined four of the council’s more conservative members.
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Autry and Mayfield objected to an amendment that removed the ability of transgender persons to use the bathroom of their choice in places of public accommodation.
The proposal that they voted against still would have prohibited discrimination in places of accommodation based on someone’s sexual orientation or gender identity or gender expression.
That would have meant that a restaurant or business would have been prohibited from refusing to serve or accommodate a customer because they are gay or transgender. It would have prohibited a caterer or party planner from refusing to do business for a gay, lesbian or transgender event – even if the business said its religious beliefs were against providing service to a gay wedding, for instance.
It also would have prohibited taxis, limousines or any passenger vehicle for hire from refusing to pick up passengers because they are gay or transgender.
But the ability of transgender residents to use the bathroom of their choice was seen as a critical element to the ordinance. A man who is transitioning to a woman might not feel safe in a men’s bathroom, supporters of the ordinance said.
Autry said in an interview Tuesday that the changed ordinance would have provided protection for the “LGB community, but not the LGBT community.”
Scott Bishop of MeckPAC said the coalition that supported the proposed ordinance will focus on electing a new council that will “listen to the city of Charlotte instead of to outside interests who came in here with their messages of fear and hate.”
Even though Mayfield and Autry helped vote down the amended proposal, Bishop made it clear that those two council members stood with the LGBT community in their refusal to compromise.
The city will have elections this fall for mayor and all 11 council seats.
Two of the current at-large council members – Democrats David Howard and Michael Barnes – have said they are running for mayor. That means there will be at least one new at-large member, and possible other new members if existing council members run for at-large seats.
Howard supported removing the bathroom provision from the proposed ordinance. He then voted in favor of expanding the nondiscrimination ordinance to include sexual orientation and gender expression/gender identity to the list of protected classes.
He also said he wanted businesses to have a third bathroom – male, female and unisex.
In January, during a council workshop, Barnes said he objected to the bathroom provision that would allow transgender people to use the bathroom of their choice. He said he was concerned about the safety of his children and other children.
During Monday’s meeting, he voted in favor of removing the bathroom flexibility for transgender people from the ordinance. After that was decided, and the council was considering the amended ordinance, Barnes came back to that theme of safety.
“It’s offensive for people to question the interest and values of a parent,” he said.
Barnes then voted no.
In an interview Tuesday, Barnes said he was concerned that the city had moved forward on the ordinance without consulting people who would likely be opposed to it.
“I think the whole process was flawed,” Barnes said. “What we learned last night is that our colleagues had been working on that ordinance since July. Why was there not a fair process?”
On Tuesday, Mecklenburg County commissioner Bill James sent a letter to the North Carolina legislature asking that lawmakers in Raleigh follow the lead of those in Arkansas. State lawmakers in Little Rock recently passed a bill banning Arkansas cities and counties from implementing nondiscrimination policies covering sexual orientation and gender identity.
Two Mecklenburg Republicans, however, said they weren’t interested Tuesday.
“That is the last thing I think we should get involved with,” said Republican Rep. Charles Jeter of Huntersville. “Write that down. Put it in bold.”
State Rep. Bill Brawley, a Republican, agreed.
“I have too much to do dealing with transportation funding and the job creation bills,” Brawley said, “to deal with everything that the city of Charlotte does that I think does not make good sense.”
Critical of process
In addition to Barnes, others criticized how the city moved forward with the ordinance.
City Attorney Bob Hagemann said he made simple changes to the existing nondiscrimination ordinance to meet MeckPAC’s goals of expanding protections.
The Rev. Mark Harris, pastor at First Baptist Church of Charlotte, said he hopes that Charlotte city leaders learned a lesson for the future: that all voices should be included the next time such a controversial ordinance is considered.
Observer reporter Jim Morrill contributed to this story.
How they voted
Charlotte City Council voted 9-2 Monday to reject expanding an ordinance to add protections for gay and transgender residents:
Democrats John Autry and LaWana Mayfield: They supported the full ordinance, with no changes. Rather than support the ordinance without bathroom provisions for transgender residents, they voted against it.
Democrats Patsy Kinsey, Al Austin and Vi Lyles: They supported the full ordinance, with no changes. But they also voted in favor of removing the bathroom provisions to move the issue forward. They voted for the amended ordinance.
“We need to move ahead and get something on the books,” Kinsey said.
Democrats Claire Fallon and David Howard: They wanted to take the bathroom provision out of the ordinance. They then voted in favor of the amended ordinance.
“We are trying to strike a balance and move forward,” Howard said.
Democrats Michael Barnes and Greg Phipps, and Republicans Kenny Smith and Ed Driggs: They voted in favor of removing the bathroom provision from the ordinance and then voted against the amended ordinance.
“Anyone who opposes this is being described as hateful or ignorant,” Driggs said. “I don’t have any animus towards LGBT people.” Steve Harrison