Politics & Government

Charlotte city attorney says new rule won’t outlaw separate restrooms

Ken Spaulding
Ken Spaulding

Charlotte’s city attorney Wednesday strongly refuted claims by a Republican lawmaker that the city’s new anti-discrimination ordinance would inadvertently outlaw separate bathrooms for men and women.

Republican state Rep. Dan Bishop said Wednesday the City Council had “blundered” when it wrote the new ordinance that passed Monday night.

Bishop, a lawyer, said the way the city changed the wording of an existing ordinance made it illegal to have separate bathrooms, locker rooms or even showers for men and women.

“In other words,” Bishop said in a statement, “just as it would be illegal for a business to discriminate by saying ‘whites only,’ it is now illegal within Charlotte city limits to have ‘male only’ or ‘female only’ bathrooms, showers, etc.”

Not quite, city attorney Bob Hagemann said.

In a memo to Mayor Jennifer Roberts and council members, Hagemann said Bishop’s argument runs “counter to common sense” as well as interpretations of similar statutes.

“It was not the city’s intent to eliminate gender-specific facilities,” Hagemann wrote.

Regardless of the language in the ordinance, he said, other cities have passed similar ordinances “without explicitly stating that separate sex facilities are permitted.”

Starting in April, the expanded nondiscrimination ordinance will extend legal protections to gays, lesbians, bisexuals and transgender individuals – the first such ordinance in the state.

Charlotte City Council approved LGBT protections in 7-4 vote Monday night.

The most controversial part would allow transgender people to use either a men’s or women’s bathroom, depending on the gender with which they identify. That’s the part that has generated reaction from Bishop and other Republicans.

Gov. Pat McCrory warned city officials not to pass the ordinance last weekend.

North Carolina Gov. Pat McCrory talks with WBTV's Steve Crump about the Charlotte City Council approving LGBT protections.

On Tuesday House Speaker Tim Moore of Kings Mountain said lawmakers will take steps “to correct this radical course.” And House Majority Leader Mike Hager of Rutherford County said lawmakers would eliminate the bathroom provision.

“Restrooms and locker rooms,” he said, “should remain distinctly private.”

Hagemann said the city will bring no enforcement actions against public accommodations with separate bathrooms.

And he said police Chief Kerr Putney assured him that police will enforce trespassing laws against any “non-female-identifying male” who tries to use a woman’s restroom.

Jim Morrill: 704-358-5059, @jimmorrill

Democratic candidates on the issue

Republican Gov. Pat McCrory isn’t the only gubernatorial candidate who opposes part of Charlotte’s new nondiscrimination ordinance.

Democrat Ken Spaulding said Wednesday that while he supports most of the anti-discrimination language, he doesn’t like the bathroom provision.

Spaulding said that as an African-American “born and raised in a segregated North Carolina, I am obviously opposed to discrimination.”

“The Charlotte ordinance which bans discrimination against the LGBT community creates this protection,” he added. “I do not agree with the ‘bathroom provision.’ 

His Democratic opponent, Attorney General Roy Cooper, could not be reached for comment. His campaign did not return calls Tuesday or Wednesday.

Jim Morrill

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