Hundreds of people filled a capacity meeting chamber, with the city opening several overflow rooms during debate on LGBT-inclusive non-discrimination ordinances.

CHARLOTTE, N.C. — Charlotte City Council rejected several proposed LGBT-inclusive non-discrimination ordinances, after attempting to approve a compromise that would have exempted restrooms, locker rooms, showers and changing rooms from public accommodations protections.

The 6-5 vote is the second time in two decades that Charlotte has rejected LGBT-inclusive protections. LGBT advocates are condemning the vote.

The failed proposal, amended by Democratic Councilmember Vi Lyles and seconded by openly gay, Democratic Councilmember Al Austin, came after hearing nearly five hours of public comment and Council debate with speakers passionately supporting and opposing the measures, with a great deal of debate and contention focusing on transgender people’s use of restrooms.

Democratic Councilmembers LaWana Mayfield and John Autry opposed Lyles’ motion to amend the ordinances and later cast a final no vote, arguing that they wanted the original fully inclusive proposal. They were joined in voting against the proposal by four members who had expressed their opposition: Democrats Michael Barnes and Greg Phipps and Republicans Ed Driggs and Kenny Smith.

If passed, Charlotte would have become the first city in North Carolina to pass LGBT-inclusive public accommodations and other protections. That would have meant that LGBT people could not be denied service in businesses open to the public, like restaurants, hotels, bars or movie theaters.

Other ordinances proposed for amending — adding marital status, familial status, sexual orientation, gender identity and gender expression — included commercial contracting, passenger vehicles for hire and regulations for the Charlotte-Mecklenburg Community Relations Committee.

Council has ‘tough’ debate

Smith opposed the ordinances, citing what he believed to be a concerted effort from the “radical left.”

“I don’t think tonight’s vote is about solving a problem,” he said during debate. “It’s about promoting an agenda. If passed, it sends a clear message to the city, that Council has chosen to impose a radical left agenda.”

Smith also accused the ordinances of being pushed by national and local LGBT political action groups, namely the Human Rights Campaign and Mecklenburg LGBT Political Action Committee.

Smith said the ordinances would impose the “political whims of the minority on the majority.”

Democratic Councilmember David Howard said the vote had “been a really hard issue for us all.”

“I’ve been clear from the first time I sat down with representatives from the LGBT community where I was on this issue,” Howard said, noting his discomfort on the bathroom issue.

Opponents of the proposals had focused on transgender people and their use of restrooms. It had quickly become the most contentious part of the non-discrimination measures. Groups like Faith Matters NC, headed by First Baptist Church Pastor Mark Harris, even ran radio ads featuring a female narrator discussing the safety of her children.

Howard also said he was uncomfortable with the harsh rhetoric espoused by both sides of the debate, adding, “I don’t think a true transgender person is who I fear,” Howard said, noting it doesn’t change his other fears.

Austin said tonight’s vote was part of a “new civil rights revolution.” He supported the modified ordinance with “great trepidation,” he said.

“I really hoped we had the political will and the political power to be more progressive,” Austin said. “We thought we had that earlier today and that changed quite a bit.”

Driggs agreed the issue had been a “tough one,” but disagreed that there was any discrimination at play.

“I don’t believe the current status is discriminatory in the proper sense of the word,” he said. “In this case, restrooms have everything to do with gender. This is not an irrelevant criteria here. …. There are material differences between men and women.”

Driggs also brought up his concern on predators, saying it would “lower the bar” for “creeps” to take advantage of children. He cited emails from citizens who told him, “I’m afraid for my kids.”

“That’s not religious extremism,” Driggs said.

Barnes, long unfriendly to LGBT inclusion efforts, said the issue had “come down to a matter of public safety,” also citing bathroom fears.

Democratic Councilmember LaWana Mayfield, the city’s first openly LGBT elected official, said she couldn’t support the amended ordinance proposal.

“I will not and I cannot support an amendment that does not protect all of our citizens,” Mayfield said.

The proposal, Mayfield argued, could have unintended consequences, going so far as allowing a business owner to force all gay people to use a “gays only” restroom.

Mayfield also addressed many of the comments heard during the night’s public comment.

“I have listened to some individuals take the word of God and use it as a weapon,” she said. “My God is bigger than some of the hateful things I have heard this evening. … I don’t believe that all the people who are opposed to this ordinance are bigots, but I do believe it is my responsibility to support protections for all people.”

Autry cited the love for his daughter in his support for the ordinances.

“I didn’t know how she was going to grow up,” he said, recounting the first time he held her as a baby. “She just happened to grow up as a roller derby-loving lesbian. And I love her.”

Democratic Councilmember Patsy Kinsey said she wasn’t completely happy with the amended ordinances, but supported them.

“We just need to move ahead and get something on the books,” Kinsey said. “We didn’t have the votes [for the original proposal]. Sometimes you have to count votes. … I know it’s not everything that everybody wants, but I think we need to move ahead.”

Lyles said she also would have supported the original ordinance, if Council had had the votes to pass it.

LGBT advocates condemn Council action

The Charlotte Non-Discrimination Ordinance Coalition, which led the push for the ordinances, released the following statement after the Council vote:

The Charlotte Non-Discrimination Ordinance Coalition is condemning Charlotte City Council’s decision on Monday to reject amendments to local non-discrimination ordinances. The measures would have added sexual orientation and gender identity, among other characteristics, to already protected classes in four city non-discrimination ordinances. Their action repeats a similar rejection of inclusive non-discrimination protections made by Council in November 1992.

For the second time in our city’s history, Charlotte City Council has shown it does not have the courage or the conviction to stand for fairness and equality. More than two decades ago, Council members shamelessly rejected similar public accommodations protections. In repeating that sad legacy on Monday, Council chose to listen to the divisive, prejudiced rhetoric of out-of-town special interests who have been behind recent attacks on the rights of LGBT people across the state and across the country. They have proven they will stop at nothing to malign and discriminate against LGBT citizens and residents.

These safe and equitable protections have been adopted by 17 states and more than 200 local governments across the country with no ill effect, including in Bessemer City, Greensboro, Raleigh and Winston-Salem, and in South Carolina’s Columbia, Charleston and Myrtle Beach.

Charlotte’s decision tonight moves the city backward not forward and shows a continued lack of commitment to fair treatment of all its citizens and residents. This coalition will not stop lobbying Council for these changes and will bring them back to city leaders for future consideration. We thank our Council champions and those who voted for the measure, placing equality over discrimination.

The coalition had consisted of Mecklenburg LGBT Political Action Committee (MeckPAC), Charlotte Business Guild, Clergy for Equality, Equality NC, Human Rights Campaign, LGBT Democrats of Mecklenburg County, Genderlines, Straight Allies Charlotte, Democracy NC and ACLU of North Carolina.

Public comments passionate

For nearly four hours, citizens spoke to Council on their views regarding the proposals. Most of the 120 signed-up speakers were opposed to the ordinances.

Several high-profile speakers addressed the Council, including NC Values Coalition’s Tami Fitzgerald, Concord-based anti-LGBT theologian Dr. Michael Brown, anti-LGBT street preacher Flip Benham and his son, David Benham.

Each of those opposed hit a variety of talking points — claiming the ordinances would put women and children in danger or violate religious freedoms, among others.

Speakers in favor of the ordinances told Council that the city needed to take a step forward to protect all citizens, residents and visitors.

“Discrimination is alive and well in Charlotte,” said Chris Sgro, executive director of Equality NC, addressing the large pushback from the right. “If discrimination does not exist, why are so many in the vocal minority behind me so intent on fighting?”

Ed Williams, a former editorial page editor for the Charlotte Observer, spoke out in favor of the ordinances.

“Charlotte is a progressive city, but sometimes it needs a little push,” he said.

Andraya Williams, a transgender college student who was harassed using a campus bathroom last year, also spoke. She told a powerful personal story in response to scare tactics used by opponents, linking transgender people to predators.

“I was molested as a child,” she said. “It didn’t happen in a bathroom. It happened by a leader in my church.”

Williams called the scare tactics and prejudices offensive and absurd.

Near the end of the public comment, a transgender woman, who identified herself only as Coco, collapsed after speaking.

Flip Benham laughed and joked about Coco’s gender as she laid on the floor needing medical attention.

After about a five-minute recess, Council began hearing speakers again, with Greg Farmer directly alluding to Benham’s behavior.

“Anytime you see an innocent person fall down and laugh about her gender…your opinions become invalid,” Farmer told Council.

At the end of public comment, Clodfelter commended citizens for their civility during the long night.

“I have heard great passion as we all have tonight,” Clodfelter told the audience. “I know each of you have heard other say things that deeply offend you, but all of you got through it and you got through it in the way I hoped we would, with civility, respect and a willingness to listen.”

Clodfelter added: “You all should be proud. … What happened here in the last four hours — that people who deeply, deeply disagree with one another could come together and have the kind of discussion you just had — that doesn’t happen in a lot of places around world. Cherish it.

Trans teen confronted by activist Flip Benham

During the long public comment, a transgender teenager reported being confronted by anti-LGBT street preacher Flip Benham. The 17-year-old transgender girl’s mother said she had to step in between the confrontation.

Read that full story here.


Matt Comer

Matt Comer previously served as editor from October 2007 through August 2015 and as a staff writer afterward in 2016.

17 replies on “Charlotte rejects LGBT-inclusive ordinances after more than five hour public comment and debate”

  1. I’m sad to see it fail, but as a gay man I wouldn’t want to see it pass without the strongest possible transgender protections anyways which seemed to be what that amendment was about.

    Step one is to try to change minds and win the vote. If that fails, step two can always be to vote out the minds you couldn’t change in favor of equality.

    A lot of cities have their local elections around NC in off years like 2015. Does anyone know if that’s the case for Charlotte?

  2. Although this doesn’t affect me in any way, I am very disappointed that this important piece of legislation failed.

    To me it doesn’t say much for the humanity of the present council members. Hopefully the public will see fit to replace these individuals who refuse to accept the facts of life.

  3. I commend the pro ord councilmembers that voted down the amended cowardly and disgraceful “compromise.

    We should not throw Transgender folks under the bus just to have “something on the books”,
    Councilwoman Kinsey.

    Sad that the largest city in the Carolinas has a Council that is still incapable of catching up with the times.

    How long will it take?

    Would not surprise me in this town.

  4. This is pure hate at it’s lowest form. The separation of church and state does not occur in Charlotte NC, and I for one have dumped the Panthers as my team because I have no desire to ever go there again! BOYCOTT CHARLOTTE!

  5. I understand how this is for people on both sides. The radical left is no different than the radical right. Wonder if they have considered having a gender neutral rest rooms where there are multiple stalls. Might cost a bit but law suits will cost too.

    1. If someone is uncomfortable using the restroom accessible to all women, trans or otherwise, I think they should be more than welcome to self-segregate and find their own gender-neutral restroom. Why should we single out trans people for exclusion because of someone else’s irrational fears? I’ll never understand conservative’s push for punishing a minority for something that minority has no control over.

  6. “The only thing we have to fear is fear itself.”
    Might we ask why the City Council was reticent to rise above and think of our whole community, our city Charlotte, purportedly the fastest growing in the country and now reflecting a dubious decision to impair and put at risk some citizens for fear of what others might do. Fear has a changing face, first distrust and sometimes hate but always division. This is the mask Charlotte wears this morning, it is unsettling but will not last. Take heart, stand strong, Charlotte is far better, we make it so.

  7. I read the whole article…great example of what is wrong with journalism today: not once did this article explain what specifically were the key issues. A lot about restrooms, but WHAT about restrooms was the specific proposal???.

  8. When I hear of so much US vs THEM in terms of left vs right I am saddened by the polarization of America. There is a medical consensus around the significance of gender identity and it’s natural variability. Trans* folks need to go to the bathroom and they have a right to be safe when they do. Telling a transwoman she has to go into the men’s restroom puts her in danger.

  9. Charlotte! Shame on you! Not passing all-inclusive protections does nothing to secure your place as a “World Class City” as you so want. It’s time to step out of the conservative, mired ways of yesterday and step into the universality of the future with everyone being treated equally. These backward-thinking folks who are scared of their kids or themselves being in a bathroom with a trans person says a lot about them. They are just plain scared. And, when that happens, it is often because of something inside themselves that they are too fearful to acknowledge. Boo!
    There was nothing said of these “scared” folks being in a bathroom with someone who is bi. That is not as evident. Would that also scare them too? Everyday, they are confronted with bi folks and they don’t flinch (because they can’t put a face on it). Again, Boo!
    Be brave, Charlotte. Be bold, citizens. Be inclusive, government leaders. Do it now so that our city can truly be something of which to be proud and not something for which we are ashamed. Tisk, tisk, City Council! You had your opportunity and you blew it.

    1. I’m going to agree here that rejecting this bill just shows that not much has progressed since slavery was abolished. It’s just another way for the prejudiced to not accept everyone regardless of their gender, color or beliefs. These are just bigoted people who are too myopic to see beyond their blinders. it’s a shame they have the final say.

  10. When tyranny comes to America it will be wrapped in a flag and carrying a cross. As for Ed Driggs, check your stats there Ed, 95% of child sexual abusers are straight. If your viewpoint isn’t distorted and bigoted religious extremism then neither is ISIS.

  11. why not take a whole step back 50’s and start prohibiting coloured people from using shops and cafes that white people use?
    segregation based on perceived differences is wrong, just wrong.

  12. Capitalizing on fear, bigotry and ignorance catches fire much quicker than sober and rational facts. Our opponents executed on it well.

    By happenstance or worse,Charlotte is unfortunately home base to several nationally known highly energized anti gay factions : the Benhams, Michael Brown’s group, Franklin Graham followers+ dozens of fundamentalist mega churches in the city and surrounding counties that always turn out.

    That’s a tough machine to beat.

    Judging from the articles in today’s Observer Charlotte is very torn up on this issue and nowhere close to getting to consensus on equality. And will not be for a long time.

  13. #1 I am sick of “equality” based on WHAT A PERSON DECIDES TO DO IN THEIR BEDROOM. #2 If “transgender” person looks like what they are trying to be…don’t announce you aren’t really what you are trying to be and no one will know…duh. #3 This is STILL A FREE COUNTRY. If a business owner doesn’t want to serve you THAT’S THEIR RIGHT. Take one right away to make give one to someone else? I call BULLSHIT. Why don’t you people call for your own country? An LBGT country were you all can be whatever you please.

  14. I believe in using their rules against them. Therefore, genital checks to use any public bathrooms in Charlotte. Raise taxes to pay for the genital check personal.

    Secondly, every time you see a Wingnut go into a public restroom, call the police. Then get a group to stair at them and call them names.

    Those council members who won’t support equality for all need to be called out in public. Then voted out.

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