Tuesday, January 26, 2016

Quick Facts: Charlotte’s proposed LGBT-inclusive non-discrimination ordinance explained

Posted By on Tue, Jan 26, 2016 at 1:11 PM

click to enlarge Residents packed the city council meeting in March 2015 during which residents spoke both in support and opposition to a new nondiscrimination ordinance. - PHOTO BY KIMBERLY LAWSON
  • Photo by Kimberly Lawson
  • Residents packed the city council meeting in March 2015 during which residents spoke both in support and opposition to a new nondiscrimination ordinance.

Charlotte City Council is due to debate a package of LGBT-inclusive non-discrimination ordinances next month. The move comes nearly a year after city council defeated the same proposal in a 6-5 vote last March.

The defeat last year came in part because councilmembers LaWana Mayfield and John Autry voted against what advocates called a weakened version of the ordinance which stripped out protections for transgender residents in restrooms and other facilities.

Protections for transgender residents quickly became the hot topic in debate last year. The focus has similarly returned to transgender people and their use of restrooms this year, with opponents using the slogan, “No Men in Women’s Bathrooms,” and proponents pushing back against what they say are scare tactics based in myth and fear.

The pending vote — thought to come as early as Feb. 8, though that’s not been confirmed by city leaders — has already brought a flurry of online conversation, advocacy and media attention.

Here are four quick points you need to know as the debate continues to pick up…

1. What the ordinances cover: The slate of ordinances would add sexual orientation and gender identity, along with familial status and marital status, to four city ordinances: public accommodations, which would protect against discrimination in places like hotels, restaurants and bars; passenger vehicles for hire; the city’s commercial contracting ordinance; and rules governing the Community Relations Committee, empowering them to collect, investigate and mediate complaints of anti-LGBT discrimination, as they similarly do now for a wide range of other characteristics. The pre-existing ordinances would be amended to add the new characteristics. Similar measures were passed last year by Greensboro’s city council. Most major cities in the U.S. have similar local non-discrimination laws, as well as smaller cities like Columbia, Charleston and Myrtle Beach, S.C. The proposed ordinance changes this year are expected to be the same as those proposed last year. A memo from the city attorney to council and the mayor sent before last February's meeting presents an interesting summary of the ordinance and history of similar ordinances along with the original proposal. 

2. What proponents say: Those in favor of the ordinances say LGBT residents have no official recourse when they experience discrimination in restaurants, hotels, bars and other public spaces. They also say incidents of discrimination aren’t being tracked. Local LGBT advocates say they’ve recorded some 140 incidents of discrimination, but those aren’t officially counted or collected by the city’s Community Relations Committee. They want to change that, and allow city officials to mediate incidents of discrimination.

click to enlarge Opposition rallied outside of last year's meeting. - PHOTO BY KIMBERLY LAWSON
  • Photo by Kimberly Lawson
  • Opposition rallied outside of last year's meeting.
3. What opponents say: Led largely by faith leaders in Charlotte and across the state, opponents have focused almost solely on the use of bathrooms by transgender people. They say the new changes would place women and children in danger when they use public restrooms, despite research by the Center for American Progress showing no such threat exists in any of the major cities where similar laws are already in place. Similarly, experts and law enforcement officials in several states across the country have also said non-discrimination laws do not increase incidents of harassment. They’ve also made a religious freedom argument against the measures, saying new non-discrimination laws would force Christian business owners to violate their conscience.

4. What citizens and residents can do: The city wants citizens and residents to join in a conversation about the impact of the proposed ordinances. To enable that conversation, the Community Relations Committee and Community Building Initiative have joined together to present a community forum on the ordinances this Monday, Feb. 1. The forum will consist of story telling and small-group breakouts, where participants can share their stories on how they will be impacted by the change. The event is scheduled for Feb. 1, 6:15 p.m., at the Palmer Building, 2601 E. 7th St. Space is limited and those interested in attending must RSVP to Renee Thompson by emailing rthompson@charlottenc.gov or by calling 704-336-2424. A vote date hasn’t yet been confirmed and it’s not quite clear how or when the public will be able to sign up to speak during a public comment period before the vote.

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