Republican U.S. Rep. Robert Pittenger represents the 9th Congressional District, covering portions of Charlotte, Mecklenburg County and Iredell County.

CHARLOTTE, N.C. — An audio recording of a congressman’s remarks defending anti-gay employment discrimination was released publicly today after he attempted telling local media this week he never made the comments. Leading LGBT advocacy groups are calling Pittenger’s actions dishonest and again calling on him and other elected officials to support LGBT-inclusive workplace protections.

U.S. Rep. Robert Pittenger, a Republican who represents portions of Charlotte, Mecklenburg County and Iredell County, came under scrutiny for comments he made following a Ballantyne town hall this month.

Speaking to a writer with progressive-leaning blog ThinkProgress, Pittenger compared the right to fire gay and lesbian employees to the right of a business owner to allow smoking on his private property and calling it one of “the freedoms we enjoy.”

On Thursday, advocates from the Human Rights Campaign and Equality North Carolina delivered 30,000 petitions calling on Pittenger to support LGBT employment protections and calling his comments an “outrage.”

But, Pittenger told Charlotte news stations WSOC and WBTV that he didn’t make the remarks, despite having already defended them to media outlets including The Charlotte Observer and WSOC’s parent company’s D.C. bureau.

“Pittenger is not recorded saying that, and he denies it. Pittenger’s reps say his words were twisted,” WBTV reported Thursday, with WSOC reporting, “The congressman’s office insists he never made the divisive statement.”

ThinkProgress released the entire audio of the exchange on Friday morning, following qnotes‘ request for the audio on Thursday evening.

In it, Pittenger is heard defending the right of businesses to hire and fire employees as they see fit. His statements in the audio match further statements he’s made, claiming government shouldn’t intervene to protect LGBT workers from unfair employment discrimination.

The full recording also reveals further remarks from Pittenger, including his belief that business owners should be able to discriminate against employees on the basis of religion.

You can listen to the audio below:


The Human Rights Campaign and Equality North Carolina slammed Pittenger on Friday afternoon for what they called dishonesty.

“Members of Congress have an obligation to be honest with their constituents and the American people. Rep. Robert Pittenger has failed that essential qualification for office, with audio evidence to prove it,” the two groups said in a joint statement. “Beyond the dishonest representations of Rep. Pittenger’s statements by his staff, the underlying issue remains. Hardworking lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) people in North Carolina and across the United States face the daily threat of being fired from their job just because of who they are or who they love.”

The groups also said “No one should be fired based solely on their sexual orientation or gender identity.”

And, they added, “Yet Congressman Pittenger does not support any legislation to protect LGBT workers from job discrimination, leaving North Carolina LGBT families vulnerable and at risk. And he can’t even own up to or apologize for his demeaning and dismissive comments. We urge Congressman Pittenger to acknowledge his own words and make a commitment to learn more about the realities of workplace discrimination and the dire need for workplace protections for our LGBT friends, family, neighbors, and co-workers on the state and federal level.”

Inaccurate reporting questioned

It’s not clear why WBTV incorrectly reported a recording didn’t exist and whether it approached ThinkProgress for the audio or for further clarification on or evidence of the remarks. It’s also not clear if WBTV will produce an updated or corrected story.

A call to WBTV News Director Dennis Milligan has not yet been returned.

Additionally, during questions at Thursday press conference by LGBT activists, WSOC reporter Eric Philips seemed to believe the burden of proof for Pittenger’s remarks rested with solely with the LGBT advocacy groups. It’s not clear if Philips himself attempted to confirm the existence of an audio recording.

WSOC Assistant News Director Stephanie Linton told qnotes she didn’t know whether Philips had been in touch with ThinkProgress or their writer. She didn’t know for certain if WSOC would air an updated report.

“I’d like to listen to it and talk to our producers about that,” Linton said. “This is the first I’m hearing about it.”

WSOC later published an update, including audio of Pittenger’s remarks, though the station did not acknowledge their earlier, inaccurate report.

Jen Jones, communications director for Equality North Carolina, questioned WSOC’s and WBTV’s inaccurate reporting and said more must be done to educate the media.

“Being asked by reporters to prove Rep. Pittenger made his anti-LGBT comments — when he himself had already defended his statements to the press — only obfuscates the issue of LGBT workplace discrimination and illustrates there is still much work to be done to educate the media, as well as electeds and the public, about the realities facing gay and transgender workers everyday,” Jones told qnotes.

Jones added, “This educational work necessarily includes an understanding of the current lack of, and immediate need for, workplace protection policies on the state and federal level to make sure no hardworking North Carolinian, including gay or transgender workers, has to live in fear that they can be fired for reasons that have nothing to do with their job performance. By updating our existing non-discrimination laws, we can help level the playing field for any North Carolinian who is willing and able to work hard, earn a living, provide for themselves and their families, take responsibility for their own lives, and contribute to society-at-large.”

[Ed. Note — This story was updated Sept. 26, 3:39 p.m. to include statements from the Human Rights Campaign and Equality North Carolina and on Sept. 27, 10:03 a.m. to include WSOC’s updated report.]

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

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