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Dispelling the myths of Charlotte's non-discrimination ordinances 

Toilet talk

Charlotte City Council will resume the debate over a proposed LGBT-inclusive non-discrimination ordinance this month, nearly one year since they voted down the same proposal. You're going to hear and see a lot of talk on public restrooms. Most of it is myth. I'm here to dispel them.

The proposal would add sexual orientation, gender identity, familial status and marital status as protected against discrimination in hotels, restaurants, bars, taxis, the city's commercial contracting and, yes, public restrooms, locker rooms and changing rooms.

Opponents have taken the public's perhaps genuine ignorance of transgender people and focused it squarely on restrooms and locker rooms.

"No men in women's restrooms," reads the slogan adopted by the NC Values Coalition and used by those who defeated a similar ordinance in Houston last year. "No boys in the girl's locker room," the group's recent mass email exclaims.

We're witnessing a fear-based media feeding frenzy, not a discussion based on facts. It's time to get back to reality.

Myth: The ordinances would create gender-neutral restrooms and locker rooms.

Sex-segregated restrooms or locker rooms will not be changed. Signs would continue to display "men" and "women." The ordinances would, however, prevent transgender people from being denied access to the restroom which corresponds with their gender identity. The ordinances would create official recourse where none currently exists in documenting and mediating incidents of anti-LGBT discrimination.

Myth: There's no evidence of anti-LGBT discrimination in Charlotte.

The Community Relations Committee is not currently empowered to track, investigate or mediate complaints of anti-LGBT discrimination, so of course there's no evidence from the city.

Some recent incidents are already widely known, however. Last March, during the city council's initial debate, anti-LGBT activists harassed a transgender woman, a transgender teenager and a cisgender woman who the culprits identified as "too masculine" in the government center's public restrooms. One anti-LGBT activist videotaped a transgender woman inside the restroom.

Myth: The ordinances will create unsafe conditions for women and children.

This myth seems to strike the most fear, and it's the narrative mainstream media often chooses to portray when covering this topic. There is no evidence to claim women and children will be made more unsafe as the result of these proposed ordinances. Several studies, including testimonies directly from law enforcement agencies themselves, have found no increase in sexual assaults or harassment of cisgender women after the adoption of non-discrimination protections.

Charlotte already has experience here. On city-owned property, individuals are currently protected when using public restrooms. In January, I asked City Manager Ron Carlee if there had been any reported incidents of harassment as a result of his policy, adopted after last year's harassment at the government center. His answer was a simple and short, "No." In Plaza Midwood, Pure Pizza owner Juli Ghazi said the same thing when I asked about any reported harassment in her gender-neutral restroom.

More broadly, these specific concerns over women's and children's safety are drastically overwrought. According to the Rape, Abuse & Incest National Network, about four out of five rapes are committed by someone known to the victim. Eighty-two percent of other sexual assaults are also committed by a non-stranger. Sixty-three percent of all rapes and sexual assaults occur at home, within one mile of home or at the home of a friend, neighbor or relative.

"I saw on a daily basis that women and children were harmed in their homes by men and women who were trusted and invited in," says Jennifer Dula, a social worker who previously worked as a child protective services investigator.

Dula, whose wife is transgender, says parents should be more concerned with who they're inviting in their homes instead of worrying about public restrooms and what she calls "over-inflated 'stranger danger' fear mongering."

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