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City Council Approves Changes To Non-Discrimination Ordinance

Robert Lahser
Charlotte Observer
Supporters cheer after the City Council's 7-4 vote on LGBT protections on Monday night.

Monday night Charlotte’s City Council voted to expand the city’s non-discrimination ordinance to include protections for LGBT individuals. The vote was 7 to 4 in favor of the ordinance which has been a source of contention in the city for the last year.

Protestors gathered in the rain Monday afternoon outside the Government Center. Inside, long lines of people waited for the chamber doors to open. Supporters held signs that read, “Facts not fear” and “Don’t Discriminate Charlotte.” Opponents held signs like, "Keep Women Safe" and "No Men In Women's Restrooms."

And the controversy boils down to bathrooms.

People didn’t say much about the section of the ordinance that prohibits businesses from refusing services to anyone based on marital status, family status, sexual orientation, gender identity and gender expression.

The issue was the part of the ordinance that allows transgender people to use the bathrooms of their choice.

More than 100 spoke - some for, some against the expansion. Most were from Charlotte but there was a large contingent from outside the city, Concord, Raleigh, Boone, even Orlando, Florida.

Most of the people outside Charlotte were against the ordinance expansion.

Bible verses were recited. Emotions ran high, like when Charlotte mother Jeanette Wilson stood up to the podium.

"I care. I want my children protected. Mayor, your community forum was a sham. You and other council members do not care to hear what we have to say," Wilson said slamming her fist on the podium. 

Supporters included business owner Juli Ghazi. Her restaurant Pure Pizza is in Plaza Midwood.

“We have a multi-stall gender neutral restroom. It has received international attention for its inclusion. I’m here to tell you what that restroom is not. It's not a place where perverts are drilling holes in the stalls to peep at people besides them. There's not been a single incident of a man, dressed as a woman lurking to harm women and children. There's not been any gay or straight sex initiated in the bathroom. There hasn’t been a transgender person who has exposed him or herself to children," Ghazi stated.

Several business owners did express concerns on how they would financially support the changes.

After two hours it was time for council members to speak.

Councilman Al Austin who is gay was passionate for the ordinance expansion.

"LGBT people are not aliens that kind of arrived on earth demanding rights. We have been here for a very long time. We are you sons, your daughters, uncles, cousins, mothers and your fathers. We exist in your families... your churches, from the pulpit to the pews," Austin said.

Councilwoman Claire Fallon was one of four who voted against it.

She said she wouldn’t vote for something that frightened people and she added, “Tonight was not a fair hearing. It was one side and not the other side. We heard from LGBT and Equality but we never heard from the other side," Fallon said which was met with mixed responses. 

The others to vote no were Ed Driggs, Greg Phipps, and Kenny Smith.

The changes take effect April 1.

But Governor Pat McCrory has warned according The Charlotte Observer that state lawmakers may intervene and he would support those efforts if that occurred.

Sarah Delia is a Senior Producer for Charlotte Talks with Mike Collins. Sarah joined the WFAE news team in 2014. An Edward R. Murrow Award-winning journalist, Sarah has lived and told stories from Maine, New York, Indiana, Alabama, Virginia and North Carolina. Sarah received her B.A. in English and Art history from James Madison University, where she began her broadcast career at college radio station WXJM. Sarah has interned and worked at NPR in Washington DC, interned and freelanced for WNYC, and attended the Salt Institute for Radio Documentary Studies.