Today, we look backwards.
It’s an old colloquialism that Charlotteans aren’t accustomed to hearing about their city. It’s how someone describes a place that hasn’t kept up with other places. It’s how people perceive those who watch progress pass by.
Today, Charlotte is that place. At least that’s how we might appear to anyone who sees the news that the Charlotte City Council failed Monday to pass an ordinance offering anti-discrimination protections to homosexuals and transgender people. They were protections that the LGBT community deserves – and that most other large cities have given. Charlotte didn’t.
Today, we look like an old Southern town, not a New South city. And it didn’t have to happen.
A majority of the City Council favored the provisions that ultimately were voted down Monday, but the ordinance failed in part because two council members chose principle over a compromise that would have moved the city forward.
That compromise involved removing the ordinance’s most contentious provision, one that allowed transgender people to use bathrooms in which they felt most comfortable. That provision was the source of the most debate – and the most misunderstanding – Monday night.
Separating the bathrooms from the rest of the ordinance was a pragmatic decision; the bathrooms could be revisited later while other important protections remained intact. Those protections added marital status, familial status, sexual orientation, gender identity and gender expression to a list of characteristics in the commercial non-discrimination and passenger vehicle for hire ordinance.
Simply put: Businesses, including taxi drivers, would not be allowed to discriminate against the LGBT community. It’s a basic standard that any progressive community should embrace.
But supporters of the bathrooms, including Democrats Lawana Mayfield and John Autry, faced a choice: Reject anything but the original ordinance, or accept incremental steps toward progress. It’s a choice minority groups have long faced when trying to move a reluctant majority toward social change.
Mayfield and Autry, who voted against removing the bathroom provision, also voted against the amended ordinance, which went down 6-5. Their stand, while robust in principle, leaves the LGBT community with no greater protection at all. And to anyone who doesn’t care to learn the details of what transpired Monday, Charlotte merely looks like a city that doesn’t seem particularly bothered about discrimination.
Today, we look antiquated to businesses that might want to move to our city, and we look intolerant to the kind of young, talented workers our businesses want to hire.
That can still change. The council can revisit the anti-discrimination issue with an eye toward compromise. Or Mayfield and Autry can revisit how much they want to sacrifice for a provision that likely won’t pass anytime soon, especially in an election year.
For now, the LGBT community is left without critical anti-discrimination safeguards. Charlotte remains one of the few large U.S. cities without such an ordinance. And today, we look like the city we’ve long tried to convince others we’re not.