CHARLOTTE, N.C. — Mecklenburg County commissioners tonight voted 6-3 to add protections for transgender workers to the county’s non-discrimination policy.

Commissioner Kim Ratliff, a Democrat, introduced the motion with the support of Democratic Commissioners Trevor Fuller and George Dunlap. Ratliff’s policy revision adds the phrase “actual or perceived gender as expressed through dress, appearance, or behavior” to the equal employment and non-discrimination policy for county workers. The proposal also adds “political affiliation” to the policy. The county last updated the policy in 2005, when it added sexual orientation.

Debate on the policy revision followed hours of debate on other controversial topics, including the county’s mental health system, Medicaid and the Affordable Care Act.

Scott Bishop, chair of the Mecklenburg LGBT Political Action Committee (MeckPAC), said the revision was necessary for the county to continue to compete for good employees.

In the past five years, he said, the number of corporations including employee protections for transgender workers has more than doubled.

“Corporate America recognizes that talent comes in all forms,” he said. “Many municipalities are also following suit and realizing they need to compete for this talent pool. Providing these protections at the local level is an important step in ensuring transgender Americans are provided the same opportunities as other candidates in hiring.”

Debate, like the vote, fell largely among party lines, though Democrat Vilma Leake questioned the definition of “transgender” and the need for the additional language.

Ratliff and other supporters said the policy revision was simply meant to bring the county’s policies in line with federal regulations. In 2012, the federal Equal Employment Opportunity Commission ruled that discriminating against a person on the basis of their gender identity constituted illegal sex discrimination under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964.

“It’s really straight forward,” said Dunlap. “It’s updating our policy to reflect what federal policy says we have to follow. I don’t think anyone would argue that it’s wrong to update our policies when they need to be updated.”

Yet, Republicans Bill James, Karen Bentley and Matthew Ridenhour each objected.

James said the policy would allow “men in dresses” to use women’s restrooms.

“I don’t think that Mecklenburg County employees — the female ones — are going to want to be sitting in a stall in a bathroom and see a man in the stall next to them,” James said. “Just because a guy dresses like Little Bo Peep does not mean he gets to go into the women’s bathroom.”

The successfully-passed policy change applies only to the county’s Equal Employment Opportunity policy and does not affect other areas, like James’ concerns over public bathroom usage at county facilities.

James also questioned if citizens would support the change.

“This will have a much more longer-reaching impact in terms of negative reaction,” James said. “Most people don’t even know it is on the agenda and when they find out and they start thinking about their mothers and girls who are county workers, they will wonder what’s going on.”

Bentley said the policy revision was redundant. Ridenhour asked why the county couldn’t simply adopt a one-size-fits-all policy.

“Can’t we just simplify the policy by saying we won’t discriminate against anybody for any reason,” he asked.

Equality North Carolina, a statewide LGBT advocacy group, praised the local action in Mecklenburg County.

“Tonight’s historic vote by the Mecklenburg County Commissioners sends a clear signal that LGBT employees and their families deserve equal treatment,” Chris Sgro, executive director for Equality NC, said in a release prior to the meeting. “In the wake of this vote from North Carolina’s most populous county, we urge other cities and counties in North Carolina to also take this vital step, and join the county of Mecklenburg in protecting hardworking LGBT employees from discrimination, harassment, mistreatment and being fired simply for who they are.”

The commission’s vote brings Mecklenburg County’s human resources policies in line with those in the City of Charlotte. In 2010, former Charlotte City Manager Curt Walton added sexual orientation to his human resources policy. In 2012, he also added protections for transgender workers.

Sixteen city and county governments across the state provide some form of LGBT employee protections. Mecklenburg becomes only the third county, following Orange and Buncombe, to protect transgender workers. Only five cities — Asheville, Boone, Carrboro, Chapel Hill and Charlotte — also include protections for gender identity or expression.

[Ed. Note — The original version of this article noted incorrectly that Charlotte City Manager Curt Walton had added sexual orientation to the city’s human resources policies in 2009. The change actually occurred in March 2010. We regret the error.]

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

4 replies on “Mecklenburg commissioners vote to add transgender protections”

  1. For the last several months I have had multiple conversations with Commissioner Ratliff about transgender inclusion in the county’s employment policies, concerning employment nondiscrimination and I would like to praise Commissioner Ratliff for introducing transgender inclusion to be included in the county’s employment policies to bring the county employment policy’s in line with EEOC and the 1964 Civil Rights Act Title 7. Also I want to say thank you to the commissioners who done the right thing by voting yes. I’m just sorry I could not make the meeting last night because of recent health issues. But I did keep up through Twitter and other sources as to what was going on during the meeting.

    Commissioner Bill James is obviously a misguided, misinformed bigoted individual whose beliefs fall in line with a person that has ties to the religious right. His concerns about a man in a dress or little Bo Peep using the women’s room are a statement of an ignorant fool.

    I am wondering what bathroom Bill James uses where a person can see in the next stall. The ones I use are not transparent. The other thing Mr. James is I have been using the Ladies room for many years and as long as my feet are pointed forward you can’t tell. I challenge Bill James to site one case where a woman has been assaulted by a transgender in a public restroom, not just in North Carolina but nationwide. Also I am wondering why Bill James even brought up the bathroom issue? Many businesses and companies have gender neutral bathrooms to accommodate transgender employees’. Bill you need to get with the times.

    Bill it is obvious, if you are to represent the people as a public servant you need some education. I propose that you go out with me on a date and by nights end I will assure you, you will be educated and converted to a Democrat.

  2. I think that it’s interesting that men always bring up the women’s restroom thing, when it’s obvious that they’ve never been in one. Women’s restrooms, unlike men’s, do not have open stalls. I’ve been in restrooms KNOWING that there was a man (not a trans woman) in the next stall. There’s a door and a lock. What’s the problem? Can’t a man see a woman washing her hands?

  3. After digesting the words you used referring to men in dresses and little Bo Peep using the women’s room at the meeting last night, I have a question. What does that have to do with equal employment protections? Is that the best you could come up with? Please. Isn’t the truth of the matter that you could not sit there and say that transgender people don’t deserve to work because deep down you know you couldn’t because you are bigoted? Is it true that you feel that LGBT people should be eradicated out of existence because you feel they are an abomination? Did you know there are people out there that are so affected by the decisions you make, it could cause them to be homeless? Does your Christian values and belief allow you to sit there to judge and control the destiny and the lives of transgender people who have a 1 in 15 suicide rate because of lack of acceptance and not being able to support themselves because they can’t find employment? I think because you are a Tar Heel you are a better person than that. I feel as a fellow Christian that you are better man than what was displayed. I hope you search deep into your soul and realize the responsibility’s you have as a commissioner that will affect people lives for many years to come. I pray you step up to represent all citizens in a Christian way. If no one else does, I love you.

  4. “I don’t think that Mecklenburg County employees — the female ones — are going to want to be sitting in a stall in a bathroom and see a man in the stall next to them,” (Republican Bill) James said.

    I was surprised to see that this man thinks women have x-ray vision which would allow them to see the genitals of a person in the stall next to them! HA HA!

    It’s laughable, true, but that’s the kind of arguments I’ve seen over and over again from people who oppose the inclusion of gender identity in nondiscrimination laws. You have to wonder why the arguments are so silly. I’m pretty sure they are such nonsense because the opponents of such laws can’t come up with anything that makes real sense to oppose them. Hundreds of places, states, cities, counties, towns and villages have already passed nondiscrimination laws that include gender identity, the first in 1976! Not one of these places has ever seen any of the doomsday scenarios the opponents of this law like to spin.

    Kudos to Commissioner Kim Ratliff and the other wise people who voted for this important issue. Thank you!

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