Supporters deliver petitions in favor of Charlotte's non-discrimination ordinance
Gov. Pat McCrory warned two Charlotte City Council members Sunday that if the city approves new legal protections for gay, lesbian and transgender people on Monday, the vote would “most likely cause immediate state legislative intervention.”
McCrory is concerned about a provision in the proposed expanded ordinance that would allow transgender residents to use either a men’s or a women’s bathroom. That part of the ordinance has also caused a furor in Charlotte and led to the ordinance being defeated 6-5 last year.
“It is not only the citizens of Charlotte that will be impacted by changing basic restroom and locker room norms but also citizens from across our state and nation who visit and work in Charlotte,” McCrory said in an email to the council’s two Republicans, Ed Driggs and Kenny Smith. “This shift in policy could also create major public safety issues by putting citizens in possible danger from deviant actions by individuals taking improper advantage of a bad policy.”
McCrory, a Republican, continued: “Also, this action of allowing a person with male anatomy, for example, to use a female restroom or locker room will most likely cause immediate State legislative intervention which I would support as governor.”
Driggs and Smith voted against the ordinance a year ago and have been skeptical of it this year. McCrory’s email was sent after Driggs sent him an email Sunday afternoon asking his opinion on the issue.
Leading up to Monday’s vote, at least eight of 11 council members said they would support the expanded ordinance. Mayor Jennifer Roberts also supports it.
The LGBT community said the bathroom provision is important because many transgender people feel unsafe in a bathroom of the gender of which they no longer identify.
Democrat Al Austin, who supports the ordinance, said Sunday night that council members would move forward.
“We are trying to show the world that Charlotte is an inclusive place,” he said. “We can’t control what Raleigh thinks and what Raleigh does.”
He said he believes draft legislation already exists to overturn the city’s vote.
The city already has an anti-discrimination ordinance, but it doesn’t apply to discrimination against gay, lesbian or transgender people.
The proposal would give LGBT residents some legal protections in places of public accommodation, including bars, hotels, stores and restaurants. It would also give transgender residents the ability to use either a men’s or women’s restroom.
The ordinance wouldn’t affect employment. A business could refuse to hire someone for being gay. If that same person were denied service because of sexual orientation, it would be a violation of the proposed ordinance.
In his email, McCrory said the issue is too important to ignore.
“Although I have made a point as the former 14 year Mayor and current Governor to stay out of specific issues being voted on by the Charlotte City Council, the item of changing basic long-established values and norms of access to public restrooms is misguided and has major statewide ramifications,” McCrory wrote.
Equality NC, a civil rights nonprofit, issued a statement Monday calling the email exchange between McCrory and Driggs scripted.
“With less than twenty-four hours from the expected passage of crucial non-discrimination protections for lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) people in Charlotte, Governor McCrory’s choreographed exchange with Councilman Ed Driggs is disappointing as it is expected from a Governor that has consistently shown himself to be an adversary of North Carolina’s LGBT community,” the statement said.
Opponents and supporters have disagreed on how significant the discrimination is – and on whether an ordinance to outlaw it is needed.
The city’s Community Relations Committee said it has received only a few complaints from residents, but the group also said it doesn’t officially track complaints from the LGBT community.
The city has turned to a survey conducted by local gay-rights groups, which sent a list of questions to 146 members of the LGBT community after an expanded ordinance was defeated by City Council in a 6-5 vote in March 2015.
Council members are scheduled to vote on the ordinance again Monday.
The LGBT survey, which organizers said is unscientific, asked questions about whether respondents had been discriminated against at a local business, among other questions.
Critics of the survey said it’s biased and shouldn’t be used by city officials to shape the debate. Tami Fitzgerald of the N.C. Values Coalition said most of the incidents described in the survey are what she calls “hurt feelings,” incidents that she said the ordinance wouldn’t affect.
“We have deep concerns about the so-called survey,” Fitzgerald said.
Other results of the survey:
▪ Of 32 transgender people asked whether they had been “harassed, assaulted or discriminated against” when attempting to use a public bathroom, 17 said they had.
“I am an androgynous identifying male-bodied person,” one person wrote, according to the survey. “I am frequently sneered at and verbally assaulted in public bathrooms and have frequently been harassed by individuals based on my gender-ambivalent appearance.”
▪ Fifty-seven of the 146 people surveyed believed they had received poor service in Mecklenburg County because of their gender expression, gender identity or sexual orientation.
▪ Fifty-seven people also said an employee of a local restaurant, hotel, taxi company or public business had made a “disparaging comment” against them.
Scott Bishop of MeckPAC, a political lobbying group for the Charlotte LGBT community, said the survey shows that discrimination exists.
“We had 140 people who felt that they had experienced some level of discrimination, and they wanted to let us know about it,” Bishop said. “That’s what we captured in the survey.”
Roberts and city officials have cited the survey as concrete proof there is a problem.
Opponents of the ordinance have complained the city has not given them an equal platform to discuss their concerns. Though opponents will be allowed to speak Monday, the city has not invited an organization opposed to the proposed ordinance to speak at other meetings before the council.
Last year, for instance, the city invited the Human Rights Campaign, an advocacy group for the LGBT community, to address council members.
The city’s Community Relations Committee held a forum last month in which supporters and opponents of the ordinance were encouraged to meet in small groups and discuss their differences.
Fitzgerald, of the N.C. Values Coalition, said the forum was not a substitute for giving opponents the opportunity to make a presentation before the city.
“That may be good for a community discussion, but to report that as community input is just wrong,” she said.
At the Feb. 8 meeting, Roberts said the survey was conducted by the LGBT Chamber of Commerce. The chamber said Thursday that her comment was a mistake and that it hadn’t worked on the survey.
A social worker had distributed questions to members of the LGBT community, and the results were passed to Bishop’s group, MeckPAC.
At the Feb. 8 meeting, the city’s Community Relations Committee released a list of cities that had recently passed similar ordinances, including ones with the bathroom flexibility. The summary showed the cities had few problems.
But Fitzgerald points to Seattle, which has a similar ordinance. Earlier this month, Seattle Parks and Recreation said a man entered the women’s locker room at a public pool and took off his shirt, according to KING 5 News.
The man was not identifying as a woman.
The report said women informed the pool staff, who told him to leave. The man said, “The law has changed, and I have a right to be here.”
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Last year’s vote focused on the bathroom provision for transgender residents.
Supporters of the expanded measure believed they didn’t have six votes on the council for the full ordinance, including the bathroom flexibility. So Vi Lyles, the current mayor pro tem, proposed an ordinance with all protections except the bathroom flexibility.
That version failed 6-5. Two council members who supported the ordinance – John Autry and LaWana Mayfield – said they wouldn’t support a watered-down proposal.
This year, at least eight of 11 council members have said they will support the ordinance.
“We still feel pretty good,” Bishop said.
As of Thursday, 119 people had signed up to speak about the ordinance. Roberts has limited speakers to one minute each.
The City Council’s public hearing on the nondiscrimination ordinance will be held at 6 p.m. Monday at the Charlotte-Mecklenburg Government Center, 600 E. Fourth St. To sign up to speak, go to http://bit.ly/1L4f1LK.