Why Charlotte is having such a tough time with ‘nondiscrimination’

Why Charlotte is having such a tough time with ‘nondiscrimination’
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Nondiscrimination sounds like something everybody can get behind, right? Well, it’s not so simple in City Hall right now as Charlotte’s leaders prepare to debate an update to the city’s nondiscrimination ordinance yet again.

At its simplest, the debate is the latest front in Charlotte’s public fight over LGBT rights. And with that comes all the rhetoric and nastiness you’ve come to expect in a city still trying to figure out how to handle gay marriage.

Here’s the deal behind the battle.

The backstory

The whole story goes back to November 2014, when a leader of the Human Rights Campaign suggested that Charlotte add categories like sexual orientation, gender expression, gender identity and marital status to its list of protected classes in the city’s nondiscrimination ordinance.

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Charlotte’s ordinance was first passed in 1968 (modeled after the federal Civil Rights Act created four years earlier) and includes protections for things like race, age, gender and basically says that public accommodations can’t deny people access based on these things. It also prohibits the city from contracting with companies that discriminate based on these characteristics.

Adding gender identity to the list is very important city’s LGBT community, particularly transgender people. They say the changes are common sense, are about treating people with respect, and keeping the LGBT community more safe. They would keep gay and transgender people from being thrown out of taxis, hotels, bars and things like that.

Opponents of the changes basically distill their arguments down to what’s known as the bathroom issue. Allowing transgender people to choose the bathroom that fits their identity will open the door to men with ill intentions going into the female bathroom to prey on women and girls, they say.

Their arguments are also heavily draped in Bible-based messaging, similar to the arguments made against same-sex marriage.

The confrontation

The two sides came to a head when the ordinance change went before the council in March 2015. More than 100 people signed up to speak on the topic, and a circus ensued of people saying Charlotte was inviting evil and damnation up on itself, and was violating Christians’ rights, as well as the above arguments on both sides. The meeting took hours.

The ordinance changes ended up being voted down 6-5 in an odd bit of politics. The original ordinance changes didn’t have enough support because too many councilmembers were concerned about the bathroom issue.

A second ordinance was put forward that eliminated references to bathrooms but included gender identity as a protected class. That ultimately failed because two councilmembers didn’t feel it went far enough, so they sided with LGBT rights opponents.

What’s happening now?

A few weeks after taking office, Mayor Jennifer Roberts asked that the issue be revived. Roberts is a strong advocate of the LGBT community.

The city held a community meeting on the issue last week, drawing 250 or so people.

The issue is on the agenda for the City Council’s meeting Monday, but no vote is scheduled. Most likely, the council will set another public hearing and vote on the ordinance February 22.

If you want your voice to be heard, you can sign up to speak at the February 8 meeting. There’s not a hearing today specifically on the ordinance, but you can talk about anything you want during the council’s “citizens forum.”

Also stay tuned for more information about a public hearing specifically on the nondiscrimination ordinance.

The takeaway

This is an emotional issue for a lot of people, and hopefully this time reason will triumph over sensationalism.

The thing about the bathroom issue is that this ordinance really doesn’t have a ton to do with public safety. Nobody wants predators in the bathroom. But transgender people ≠ sexual predators. It’s still illegal to do bad things in the bathroom.

Do we really want Charlotte to be a city where a gay or transgender person can be thrown out of a restaurant just for being gay or transgender?

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