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What you need to know about the LGBT ordinance City Council is discussing tonight

dtfoster@charlotteobserver.com

Tonight, Charlotte City Council will once again discuss adding protections for LGBT residents to the city’s non-discrimination ordinance. If the first time around is any indication, this will be a long, contentious meeting with strong opinions expressed on both sides of the issue.

Here’s what you need to know:

The backstory

The city’s non-discrimination ordinance was first passed in 1968 and prohibits discrimination at places of public accommodation based on someone’s race, religion, national origin and (added later) gender.

In 1992, council members voted 7-4 against adding sexual orientation as a protected class (transgender protections were not included).

What adding LGBT protections would do

The proposal would give LGBT residents some legal protections in places of public accommodation, including bars, hotels, stores and restaurants, and allow transgender people to use the bathroom of the gender with which they identify.

The LGBT ordinance wouldn’t apply to private places like a country club. It also doesn’t affect how an employer deals with its workers.

Here is a hypothetical:

A gay man applies for a job at a store. The owner tells him he won’t hire him because he’s gay.

Under federal, state and Charlotte city ordinance, that’s OK. And it would remain OK even if the ordinance is expanded.

But that same man could return to the store as a customer. If the owner refused him service because of his sexual orientation, the owner would run afoul of the expanded ordinance.

That is the case today. Customers can be refused service because they are gay or transgender.

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Davie Hinshaw dhinshaw@charlotteobserver.com

What happened last year

In March 2015, it seemed like a majority of the council members would support adding LGBT protections, but as the vote got closer things changed. The amended ordinance was eventually voted down 6-5 after hours of heated public debate.

Before the vote, the bathroom provision was removed and two council members — John Autry and LaWana Mayfield — voted against, saying they would only support a full ordinance.

The bathroom provision

This has been the most prominent aspect of the debate. Both sides say it’s a safety issue.

Supporters point out that people born as male but identify as female could be harassed or assaulted in men’s bathrooms. Opponents say they worry about their own safety and the well-being of their children in women’s restrooms.

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Jeannette Wilson voices her opposition to the proposed non-discrimination ordinance during a meeting of the Charlotte City Council at the Charlotte Mecklenburg Government Center on Monday, March 2, 2015. David T. Foster, III dtfoster@charlotteobserver.com

Tonight …

The Council votes. At least 8 of the 11 members support the ordinance, as does new Mayor Jennifer Roberts. Apple apparently told her that the company will only expand into cities that have an LGBT non-discrimination ordinance.

As of Thursday, 119 people had signed up to speak about the ordinance at the meeting. They will be limited to one minute each.

If the Council does pass the non-discrimination ordinance, expect a quick response from the state legislature and Governor Pat McCrory, mostly because of, you guessed it, the bathroom provision.

Photos: David T. Foster III/Charlotte Observer; Davie Hinshaw/Charlotte Observer

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