Among America’s 20 biggest cities, only three – Charlotte, Memphis, Tenn., and Jacksonville, Fla. – are without the kind of nondiscrimination ordinance now before the Charlotte City Council.
Many cities, large and small, years ago extended such protections to gays, lesbians and transgender persons. In South Carolina, Charleston, Columbia and Myrtle Beach have ordinances that “are conceptually the same and do the same thing” as Charlotte’s proposed ordinance, said Charlotte City Attorney Bob Hagemann.
But, like Charlotte, cities that have tried to follow suit in the last two or three years have encountered fierce resistance from conservative Christian networks of local churches and statewide groups promoting traditional values.
Texas cities, including Dallas, Austin and Forth Worth, have had such ordinances on their books for more than a decade.
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In Houston, the City Council passed its own version last year, igniting a firestorm that led first to a drive by opponents to force a voter referendum that could repeal it.
Using language reminiscent of those employed by opponents of Charlotte’s proposed ordinance, pastor David Welch of the Texas Council told the Texas Tribune that the Houston ordinance “addresses a problem that doesn’t exist and creates a criminal class for people who believe in the traditional Judeo-Christian viewpoint of marriage, family and gender. We can’t just sit back and let that freedom be taken away without opposition.”
The Houston case got even hotter when the city denied the opponents’ referendum petition, saying too many of the signatures were invalid. That promoted a lawsuit, and even a city subpoena for copies of pastors’ sermon notes.
Late last year, meanwhile, voters in Fayetteville, Ark., overturned their city’s nondiscrimination ordinance, which the City Council had passed last summer. Then, on the heels of that repeal, the Arkansas legislature voted this month to ban cities and counties from implementing nondiscrimination policies covering gays, lesbians and transgender people.
Not all the fights have been in the South. When Cleveland City Council member Joe Cimperman tried to get his city to pass the kind of nondiscrimination ordinance on the books in other Ohio cities – Columbus, Cincinnati and Dayton – he got major opposition from conservative religious groups.
His bill was the subject of public hearings, which isn’t the norm for legislation in Cleveland.
But more than a year after he proposed his ordinance, “it’s stuck” in a council committee, Cimperman said.
As in Charlotte, the opponents have used the so-called bathroom issue,suggesting that giving transgender people legal access to the bathroom they feel most comfortable using would put women and children at risk.
“I have respect for different views, but not ... when people use fear and misunderstanding of the transgender community,” Cimperman said. He said segregationists used the same bathroom scare tactics in the 1960s to challenge any changes to Jim Crow laws that mandated separate restrooms for blacks and whites.