Politics & Government

Charlotte City Council rejects repeal vote on LGBT ordinance

Charlotte City Council nixes LGBT ordinance repeal vote

Charlotte City Council nixes LGBT ordinance repeal vote as detractors a and supporters speak during citizens forum. DAVID T. FOSTER III - dtfoster@charlotteobserver.com
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Charlotte City Council nixes LGBT ordinance repeal vote as detractors a and supporters speak during citizens forum. DAVID T. FOSTER III - dtfoster@charlotteobserver.com

After a weekend of furious lobbying by local and national gay-rights groups, the Democratic-controlled Charlotte City Council decided Monday against taking any vote on repealing its own nondiscrimination ordinance.

The council’s decision is likely to scuttle a possible deal with the Republican-led General Assembly over House Bill 2 and could continue economic boycotts against the state. The collapse of a council deal could mean the impasse over HB2 will continue indefinitely.

At the end of Monday’s meeting, Republican Kenny Smith asked that his colleagues vote Wednesday on a resolution that would have affirmed the city’s commitment to nondiscrimination, but at the same time would remove the nullified nondiscrimination ordinance from the city’s books. He said it would be a good faith gesture to the General Assembly.

Council members voted 7-4 against doing that.

Smith, Ed Driggs, Claire Fallon and Greg Phipps voted in favor of having a repeal vote. They had also voted against expanding the nondiscrimination ordinance in February, which extended legal protections to gay, lesbian and transgender individuals.

Smith and Driggs, the other council Republican, expressed frustration with the decision.

“Say no,” Driggs told his colleagues about how legislators would respond. “See what happens.”

The furor over HB2 has thrust the state into the national spotlight and triggered conventions to back out and performers from Bruce Springsteen to Itzhak Perlman to cancel shows. It’s also led to PayPal dropping plans for a Charlotte expansion that would have created 400 jobs and Deutsche Bank dropping plans to add 250 jobs in Cary. The U.S. Department of Justice has also filed suit against the state over HB2.

Before the council meeting started, the city announced there would be no HB2 discussion. Smith brought the issue back because he said he “couldn’t stand by anymore.”

Gay-rights advocates praised the council for rejecting what they called a “political ploy” by Raleigh.

For the past week, a bipartisan group of council members and the Charlotte Chamber have been pushing for a compromise with the legislature. Under the tentative agreement, the city would have voted to repeal its nondiscrimination ordinance, even though almost all of it had been nullified by HB2. The city’s ordinance also would have allowed transgender people to use the bathroom of their gender identity.

In return for the city dropping its ordinance, the legislature might have made changes to HB2 in an attempt to end the national controversy that has consumed the city and state.

Last week, council members on both sides of the issue believed there was enough support for a repeal.

But over the weekend, support for repealing the city’s ordinance faltered. One problem was seven votes are needed to override a veto from Mayor Jennifer Roberts, who said she was against a repeal.

Nearly two weeks ago, Smith and Driggs, along with Democrats James Mitchell and Vi Lyles, met with House Speaker Tim Moore in Raleigh.

Mitchell and Lyles voted for the city’s expanded nondiscrimination ordinance in February.

Lyles said Monday she doesn’t think the council will revisit the issue.

“The (legislature’s) short session is almost over,” he said.

Several of Lyles’ colleagues said in private they believed she was open to supporting a compromise with Raleigh. Lyles on Monday said any repeal would have been difficult because it would have gone against the council’s principles.

LaWana Mayfield, who voted against the repeal, said she needed to see a written agreement with the General Assembly before doing anything. Julie Eiselt, who also voted against the repeal, said the city needed more trust with Raleigh before moving forward.

Some council members who opposed a repeal said it is Raleigh’s job to fix HB2 – not Charlotte’s job.

Roberts reiterated that view.

“We are looking to them,” she said.

The city announced there would be no HB2 discussion or vote about 30 minutes before the council meeting was to begin. The decision was made by council members on both sides, who agreed that talking about it wouldn’t do any good.

The decision to end the debate before it started was a victory for the Washington-based Human Rights Campaign, as well as local LGBT activists.

The HRC, which helped write the city’s ordinance in 2015, launched a phone bank to convince council members not to repeal the ordinance. It also said the Charlotte Chamber was an “anti-LGBT bully” for recommending that council make the first move and repeal the ordinance.

The Chamber said Monday it took “great offense” at the suggestion that the organization was against LGBT rights.

Chamber spokeswoman Natalie Dick said the last-minute decision to not vote doesn’t change the group’s position that the city should reach a compromise with the state. The Chamber has said that it opposes discrimination in all forms.

“Our position would still be the same for both, meaning the state and the local officials,” Dick said. “They both have got to do something to solve the problem.”

Scott Bishop, the former head of MeckPAC, a local LGBT lobbying group, said he considered the council’s decision not to hold a vote a “big victory.”

Bishop also said it would have been unwise for council members to vote on something that hadn’t been placed on a council agenda and vetted by the public. That would have been similar to the legislature’s one-day decision to pass HB2, he said.

Liam Johns, a transgender man, showed up at the City Council meeting two hours early.

“They (HB2) backers are trying to get us to shut up,” he said. “They didn’t expect us to stand up and fight back. We’re not backing down.”

Chad Griffin, president of the Washington-based HRC, said he was pleased the city didn’t try to reach a compromise with Raleigh.

“If there is a deal, who will you leave behind?” Griffin said.

The city is awaiting a decision by the NBA on whether it will hold its 2017 All-Star game in Charlotte as planned. Griffin said it should follow the lead of the NCAA, which recently said that cities bidding on tournaments must have safe, inclusive environments. That could make it difficult for North Carolina to host future events.

“I hope that’s what the NBA will do,” he said.

Some council members said there were no assurances the General Assembly would change HB2 if the city acted first. Several distrusted the General Assembly, especially after it moved to take control of Charlotte Douglas International Airport in 2013.

On Monday, before council members decided not to act, Senate leader Phil Berger said he did not think HB2 should be changed.

“I don’t see a need to make any changes as far as HB2 is concerned,” he said. “There are some discussions going on between Charlotte City Council people and some in the business community. Let’s see what happens.”

Lynn Bonner of The (Raleigh) News & Observer and staff writer Ely Portillo contributed.

North Carolina repealed HB2 in 2017 but left intact some of its provisions. But with Charlotte’s reputation tainted, the city is still paying to market itself to visitors.

Steve Harrison:

704-358-5160, @Sharrison_Obs

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