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Charlotte City Council Asks Attorney To Draft Protections For LGBTQ Community

Elyssa Fahndrich
The Charlotte City Council has asked the city attorney to draft a new ordinance to extend legal protections to the LGBTQ community.

Nearly five years after the city of Charlotte fought the state over House Bill 2, City Council members have asked city attorney Patrick Baker to write a new ordinance that would extend legal protections for the LGBTQ community.

There is no timetable for when council members may discuss an ordinance, and the city said it wants to go slow and meet with business and legislative leaders.

“We want to make sure it’s done right,” said Mayor Pro Tem Julie Eiselt, a Democrat. “We want to do it with the business community. Because it’s not just about a political statement, it’s about the fact that Charlotte as a city that embraces inclusion and values everybody.”

In 2016, the Charlotte City Council expanded its nondiscrimination ordinance to prohibit businesses from discriminating against LGBTQ customers. The ordinance also allowed transgender individuals to use the bathroom that matched their gender identity in places of public accommodation, like restaurants and stores.

The expanded Charlotte ordinance did not prohibit businesses from discriminating based on employment.

The issue over transgender bathroom access quickly became the most controversial part of the ordinance.

The Republican-controlled General Assembly quickly nullified the Charlotte ordinance with HB2. That law overturned Charlotte’s ordinance and prohibited cities and towns from passing new ordinances.

It also said people must use the bathroom in government-owned buildings that matched the sex on their birth certificate.

The so-called "bathroom bill" was repealed months later after an international uproar.

When HB2 was repealed, it was replaced with HB 142, which put a moratorium on cities and towns from passing new nondiscrimination ordinances. But HB 142 expired in December.

Charlotte was not eager to be first.

In the Triangle, Hillsborough and Chapel Hill have already passed new ordinances this month giving legal protections to the LGBTQ community. Their ordinances prohibit discrimination against customers, as well as for employment.

Eiselt said Charlotte is studying the details of their ordinances.

“We are looking to see what their language is,” she said. “They knew that Charlotte would not be the first city to pass this.”

The city’s efforts were first reported by WSOC-TV.

So far, Republican legislative leaders have been silent about the new ordinances.

That may be because the most controversial part of Charlotte’s 2016 ordinance won’t be repeated. While most of HB 142 is expired, there is still a state prohibition in place that prohibits cities and towns from passing new regulations or ordinances about public restrooms.

That means that transgender individuals are in something of a gray area. There are no laws saying where they must use the bathroom, but there are no laws that give them the right to use the bathroom that matches their gender identity either.

Eiselt says the city is working with Equality NC on drafting new language.

Almost all of the City Council has changed since 2016. Only Eiselt, Republican Ed Driggs and Democrat Vi Lyles are still in office. Lyles became mayor in 2017.

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Steve Harrison is WFAE's politics and government reporter. Prior to joining WFAE, Steve worked at the Charlotte Observer, where he started on the business desk, then covered politics extensively as the Observer’s lead city government reporter. Steve also spent 10 years with the Miami Herald. His work has appeared in The Washington Post, the Sporting News and Sports Illustrated.