Contentious LGBT Non-Discrimination Ordinance Before City Council Tonight
On any given Monday the Charlotte City Council considers dozens of measures. Tonight, it will have just one.
It’s a proposal to broaden the city’s anti-discrimination ordinance to include sexual orientation, gender identity and gender expression. The move is contentious. Council members have been swamped with emails and phone calls trying to sway their vote.
It’s been said the city of Charlotte is most segregated on Sunday mornings. Recently, the fault lines have been less about race than about whether or not protections for gay, lesbian and transgender people should be codified into city code.
"This has raised more controversy in Charlotte than anything else in recent years," says Nancy Kraft, pastor at Holy Trinity Lutheran Church.
On Sunday, she told congregants she just doesn't understand how anyone could oppose the measure. "It feels mean and hateful to me," and added, "what makes me crazier is seeing such injustice being perpetrated by people who claim to follow Jesus."
Last week, Reverend Mark Harris at First Baptist Church in Charlotte said the city council is "trying to make protected classes out of purely abnormal behavior."
Both Reverend Harris and Pastor Kraft have done more than just preach to their faithful. They are both activists on this issue. Both have joined dozens of other clergy members in signing letters to the city council either for or against the expansion of the non-discrimination ordinance.
What the ordinance would do
First, it would make it illegal in Charlotte for taxi drivers, restaurants, or any commercial business from discriminating against customers who are gay, lesbian or transgendered.
Seventeen states and more than 200 cities and counties across the country have enacted similar laws. It makes sense for Charlotte to do the same, says Chris Sgro, executive director of the gay and transgender rights group Equality NC.
After all, he says Charlotte is one of the 20 largest cities in the country, "and of the top 20 population cities in the country," he says, "all of them but Memphis, Jacksonville and Charlotte have these protections."
Under Charlotte’s proposed ordinance, companies found to discriminate would be subject to a fine and could be barred for two years from getting any city contracts.
But that is its own form of discrimination, says Tami Fitzgerald, executive director of the North Carolina Values Coalition, a group opposed to the measure. "It leads to religious discrimination by the city because it automatically discriminates and excludes businesses that have religious beliefs."
And therefore, she says, it runs afoul of the U.S. Constitution. Fitzgerald adds the 1964 Civil Rights Act already creates a number of protected classes – based on race, gender, national origin and disability.
"However, there is no inclusion for sexual orientation or gender identity. In other words, for sexual behavior."
Chris Sgro of Equality NC finds these arguments problematic. "It’s not discrimination. Protecting those who are discriminated against, is not discrimination."
Sgro is quick to point out what happens at a business counter, or with a city contract, isn’t the focus of those opposed to this measure. "Restrooms are certainly the lynch-pin that they’ve grabbed onto for their opposition."
Besides banning discrimination by businesses, the proposal would allow a transgender person to use the public restroom of their choice, regardless of anatomy. While at least six cities in North Carolina ban employment discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation or gender identity, Charlotte would be the state's first city to include this bathroom provision. That is why this attack ad refers to the measure as the "bathroom bill":
I’d be really scared if a man shared a private bathroom with my daughter. But that nightmare could become a reality right here in Charlotte if we don’t speak up quickly
This ad was paid for by the conservative group Faith Matters NC.
"This ordinance will allow sexual predators to pose as transgendered males or females and wait in bathrooms for unsuspecting victims," argues Tami Fitzgerald of the North Carolina Values Coalition.
That is simply fear-mongering, says Chris Sgro. "It's already illegal to be a sexual predator or to prey on someone in a restroom in any fashion."
And, as he points out, this ordinance doesn’t change those existing laws.
"The only thing this will do is make sure trans people who already use the bathroom of the gender with which they identify are not able to be harassed when doing so," Sgro says.
That fear, rational or irrational, will likely be front and center at the Charlotte City Council meeting tonight.