The debate on whether the city should offer protections for gay, lesbian and transgender residents launched again at a forum Monday night, a week before City Council will discuss the issue for the first time since March.
A year ago, council members voted 6-5 against expanding an existing non-discrimination ordinance to include the LGBT community. The most contentious part of the ordinance would have allowed transgender residents to use either men’s or women’s restrooms, based on the gender with which they identify.
It became one of the city’s most controversial issues in years, with elected officials receiving tens of thousands of emails and phone calls.
Since then, two new council members have been elected, James Mitchell and Julie Eiselt, both of whom said they support the full ordinance. Mayor Jennifer Roberts also supports expanding the ordinance.
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The city’s existing ordinance prohibits discrimination based on a number of characteristics, including race, age, ethnicity in places of public accommodation. That would include bars, restaurants, stores, taxis and limos.
The proposal would add sexual orientation and gender expression to the list of protections.
The city’s community relations committee held a two-hour forum at the Palmer House, which included a play in which actors from a theater group called XOXO portrayed business owners and LGBT residents on different sides of the issue.
One actor, Anne Lambert, read a statement from a woman concerned about the impact of the ordinance on families.
“I have a right to protect my children, and I don’t support a measure that would put my daughters at risk,” Lambert read. “I don’t want to see us change the values that made as a great place to raise a family.”
Another actor, Che Busiek, read a statement from the viewpoint of someone born as a male who identifies as female.
“When I’m in the men’s room, they push me around,” Busiek read. “I use the women’s bathroom, but cops have been called twice. ... I decided to take a friend with me because it’s safer. Please look at me – I am your 3-year-old and your 7-year-old.”
After the readings, the crowd of 250 broke into groups of about a dozen people, where they discussed the issue. The idea was to have people on both sides of the issue share their thoughts.
The groups were mostly civil, though some said they don’t think the discussion changed anyone’s minds.
“I don’t think anyone left here with a different opinion,” said Joseph Campbell of Charlotte, who opposes expanding the ordinance.
He said one of the actors should have taken the taken the perspective of God, whom Campbell said would be against the proposal.
Scout Rosen of Charlotte, who supports the expanded ordinance, said she thought the small group discussions were better than people coming “with prepared speeches.”
“But I don’t know how much progress was made,” she said. “What happened basically was there was a bunch of gays talking to people who don’t like gays.”
Council members are scheduled to discuss the ordinance Monday. They are not scheduled to take a vote, and Monday’s forum was not in lieu of the regular public forum.
The ordinance would not apply to the hiring and firing of employees – only how customers are treated. In theory, a store could refuse to hire employees because they are gay. But they could violate the ordinance by refusing to serve the same people as customers.
Willie Ratchford, who heads the city’s community relations committee, said Monday’s meeting was meant to be a “safe space” where people on both sides of the issue could discuss the issue.