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Bathrooms Become Focus Of LGBT Protection Ordinance


Next week, the Charlotte City Council is scheduled to vote on an ordinance that would prohibit businesses from discriminating against lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people. For example, a restaurant or store would have to serve a gay couple. A taxi or limousine could not refuse service to a transgender customer. But the provision that’s sparked the most controversy would allow transgender people to use the public restroom of their choice.

The city has existing non-discrimination policies but under the proposed ordinance, they would be expanded to prevent people from being discriminated against based on their sexual orientation and gender identity. There’s overwhelming agreement on the council that those are good things.

But there’s a lot of tension when it comes to allowing transgender people to use the public restroom of their choice. Some, such as City Councilman Kenny Smith, have suggested that male pedophiles and perverts might abuse the bathroom policy.

“As the ordinance is written, I think it is ripe for someone to do something nefarious,” Smith said. “I think someone who wants to be up to no good could put on a wig and a dress, claim to be transgender, go in a bathroom for whatever reason.”

Scott Bishop, chairman of the Charlotte LGBT political action committee, called Smith’s reasoning an “unfounded fear tactic.”

Bishop added, “People are afraid this ordinance will allow predators to access restrooms and that’s never been proven. These ordinances have been enacted in 17 states and more than 200 municipalities for years and there’s no evidence of this happening.”

The city attorney’s office research shows that several states where these laws passed have not seen an increase in sexual assaults in bathrooms. But it does refer to incidents of transgender people being victims of sexual assault or bullying, especially those dressed in women’s clothing and using men’s bathrooms.

Councilman Smith said his concern comes from being a parent. He said he would not feel comfortable letting his six-year-old daughter go into a ladies restroom solo under the legislation.

“If this ordinance is passed, I lose full faith and confidence in who may be on the other side of that door while I’m outside waiting for my daughter to go to the bathroom,” Smith said.

The bottom line for many opponents is it just comes down to being uncomfortable using a restroom with someone obviously of the opposite sex, regardless of how they identify themselves. Bishop said, “Charlotte is behind the times…and we feel it’s time that Charlotte show that it is an inclusive city to live.”

The Charlotte City Council meeting on the issue is expected to be a long one. Nearly 60 people signed up to speak out on the ordinance.

Gwendolyn is an award-winning journalist who has covered a broad range of stories on the local and national levels. Her experience includes producing on-air reports for National Public Radio and she worked full-time as a producer for NPR’s All Things Considered news program for five years. She worked for several years as an on-air contract reporter for CNN in Atlanta and worked in print as a reporter for the Baltimore Sun Media Group, The Washington Post and covered Congress and various federal agencies for the Daily Environment Report and Real Estate Finance Today. Glenn has won awards for her reports from the Maryland-DC-Delaware Press Association, SNA and the first-place radio award from the National Association of Black Journalists.