Opponents of adding new legal protections for gay, lesbian and transgender residents urged the Charlotte City Council on Monday to “Don’t do it” and “Keep Women Safe.”
But it appears there is still enough support on council to expand the nondiscrimination ordinance. Council members voted 7-3 to schedule a vote for Feb. 22.
During the fall elections, at least eight of 11 council members said they would support expanding the ordinance for LGBT residents. It takes a majority of six council members to pass the ordinance.
Before Monday’s council meeting, one at-large council member, Democrat Claire Fallon, said she would support the ordinance, but in an unusual way.
Fallon said she was unfairly blamed last year for the ordinance’s failure – it lost in a 6-5 vote. Fallon had voted in favor of expanding the ordinance last year, though she voted for a version of the ordinance that didn’t include a provision that would allow transgender residents to use either a men’s or women’s bathroom.
Fallon said she plans to leave the dais before the vote. A council member who leaves before a vote is counted as a yes vote.
“No one should be discriminated against,” said Fallon, who added that she was unfairly criticized by the LGBT community a year ago.
“They dragged me through the mud,” Fallon said.
At-large council member Julie Eiselt, elected last year, said Monday she would support expanding the ordinance.
At a news conference before the council meeting, religious leaders and business owners said the proposal to allow transgender people to use either men’s or women’s restrooms was objectionable and possibly dangerous.
Mark Harris, pastor of First Baptist Church, held a stack of signatures of people he said oppose the new LGBT protections.
“It’s common sense to prevent men from entering women’s restrooms,” he said at a news conference Monday evening.
If the City Council approves the new protections, Harris said, residents could later vote the ordinance down, as voters in Houston did for a similar ordinance in November.
The General Assembly could give Charlotte voters the ability to repeal the ordinance.
“The people’s voice will be the last voice,” he said.
Tami Fitzgerald of the N.C. Values Coalition said she would not bring her grandchildren to Charlotte if the ordinance passes.
The city already has an ordinance that prohibits discrimination based on a number of characteristics, such as race, age, gender and religion.
The proposal would add sexual orientation, and gender identity and gender expression to the list of protections.
The ordinance applies to places of public accommodation, such as stores, restaurants and bars. It wouldn’t apply to private clubs.
It also only applies to how a business interacts with its customers. It doesn’t affect employment.
If the ordinance is expanded, a business would be prohibited from discriminating against a customer because the customer is gay. The business would still be allowed to not hire workers based on their sexual orientation.
Council members held a detailed discussion on details about the proposed ordinance expansion.
City Attorney Bob Hagemann said already existing state law about indecent exposure would still apply, even if the ordinance is expanded. Someone born as a man but who identifies as a woman would be allowed to use a women’s restroom under the proposal. But if that person shall “willfully expose” their “private parts” they would have committed indecent exposure.
City staff presented a survey of some recent cities that enacted similar LGBT ordinances, including Atlanta, Orlando and San Antonio.
Those cities reported few issues from the new ordinances.
Republican council member Ed Driggs questioned whether the city’s research was thorough, and said the city hadn’t answered whether the bathroom flexibility reduced cases of discrimination against transgender people. He also said he felt city staff was rushing the issue.
That prompted a sharp reply from Mayor Jennifer Roberts, a Democrat who supports expanding the ordinance.
She said she “resented” the accusation that the city was “railroading” the ordinance.