2015-17 Charlotte City Council

CHARLOTTE, N.C. — In December, the Human Rights Campaign North Carolina’s Charlotte gala steering committee sent out an email announcing the 2016 Equality Award winners, “meant to honor individuals and organizations that have furthered the progress of civil rights for the lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and queer communities.” They would be presented at the annual gala, on Feb. 4, at Le Meridien Charlotte.

Person of the Year honors went to 10 transgender activists: Lara Americo (Charlotte, N.C.), Charlie Comero (Charlotte, N.C.), Candis Cox (Raleigh, N.C.), Madeline Goss (Raleigh, N.C.), Alaina Brennan-Kupec (Chapel Hill, N.C.), Erica Lachowitz (Charlotte, N.C.), Mykal Shannon (Charlotte, N.C.), Rev. Mykal Slack (Durham, N.C.), Skye Thomson (Greenville, N.C.) and Tina Madison White (Asheville, N.C.).

Organization of the Year, it was announced, would go to the Charlotte City Council for passing a “landmark non-discrimination ordinance” and for refusing to crack under pressure from the North Carolina General Assembly (NCGA), which at that point was true.

They did compromise in the end, however, repealing the non-discrimination ordinance in two goes, with votes on Dec. 19 and 21, in hopes of securing a repeal of House Bill 2 (HB2), which nullified all non-discrimination ordinances in the state. HB2 also requires transgender people to use the bathrooms and locker rooms matching the gender on their birth certificate and caps the state’s minimum wage.

“Charlotte’s City Council has remained steadfast in their fair-minded and business-savvy decision. The Charlotte City Council has repeatedly been pressed to compromise on their principles and repeal the Charlotte non-discrimination ordinance. Each and every time, they have rejected threats from the General Assembly,” the December email read.

“We are proud to honor Al Austin, John Autry, Julie Eiselt, Patsy Kinsey, Vi Lyles, LaWana Mayfield and James ‘Smuggie’ Mitchell, the seven Charlotte City Council members who, along with Mayor Jennifer Roberts, stood for equality, stood for fairness and stood firm in their convictions in support of Charlotte’s LGBTQ community.”

Mayfield and Austin joined the rest of the city council in voting for repeal on Dec. 19, but voted against the repeal vote on Dec. 21, which removed protections not overturned by HB2 and also removed a clause that would have put the non-discrimination ordinance back on the books if the NCGA failed to repeal HB2 by Dec. 31.

On the HRC Charlotte website, hrccarolina.org, the page dedicated to this year’s awardees still shows the transgender activists as the Person of the Year winners, but the Organization of the Year is noticeably absent.

A Google search for “hrccarolina.org charlotte city council awards” brings up the result hrccarolina.org/awards-2, which when clicked takes you to a 404 page, with text reading, “This is somewhat embarrassing, isn’t it? It seems we can’t find what you’re looking for.”

The HRC Charlotte email noted that the transgender community was “especially targeted and attacked by our opponents.”

“Many transgender North Carolinians stood up to those attacks — and stepped into the spotlight to tell their stories, stories that were crucial to push back on opponents’ lies. We want to recognize the work of several individuals who spoke out to their elected officials, to the community and to the media by sharing their experiences of discrimination in North Carolina,” they continued.

Even if HB2 had been repealed, it is hard to imagine the NCGA would have looked the other way had Charlotte, or any other city for that matter, tried to pass an inclusive non-discrimination ordinance. Likely the transgender bathroom and locker room protections would have to wait, at earliest in 2018 when new elections due to redistricting might give the Democrats a chance at finally breaking the Republican’s supermajority in both the House and Senate.

This fact, combined with the stated reason for awarding them, seems to have moved HRC Charlotte to rethink the honor. There remains no Organization of the Year honoree listed online.

HRC has of yet not responded to qnotes‘ request for comment.

Jeff Taylor is a journalist and artist. In addition to QNotes, his work has appeared in publications such The Charlotte Observer, Creative Loafing Charlotte, Inside Lacrosse, and McSweeney’s Internet...