Mark Harris, pastor of First Baptist Church, prays at a rally against LGBT-inclusive non-discrimination ordinances before a March 2, 2015, Charlotte City Council meeting. Behind him stands anti-LGBT street preacher Flip Benham. Harris' predecessor, Charles Page, had also spoken out against similar protections debated and rejected by Charlotte City Council in 1992.

[Ed. Note — This editorial was originally published on March 4 and is republished in our March 13 print edition.]

“Today, we look like an old Southern town, not a New South city. And it didn’t have to happen. … Today, we look like the city we’ve long tried to convince others we’re not.”

That’s The Charlotte Observer’s editorial take on Charlotte City Council’s rejection of LGBT-inclusive non-discrimination ordinances on March 2.

The problem is that the daily newspaper’s analysis is pure myth; more correctly, it is a perpetuation of an old Charlotte myth that makes us feel better, but certainly has never reflected reality.

The Charlotte Observer has a stake in perpetuating this purely homegrown Queen City phenomenon, telling ourselves one thing while turning a blind eye to the truth. The newspaper and our city have played out this myth for decades, from the days of newspaper owner and racist “New South” booster D.A. Tompkins to the present.

In Tompkins’ day, we stood up for progress in engineering and education while denying access to that progress to black citizens. Today, we stand up for progress in business, civic and social life while denying it to LGBT citizens.

We tell ourselves we are a progressive, can-do, forward-thinking city that comes together to amicably solve our problems. It is the Charlotte Way, we exclaim.

It is a lie.

But that’s what the Observer and what a great many others across this city strongly believe to their core, and that’s how they’ve reassured themselves the days following Council’s rejection of the ordinances.

Charlotte is a progressive city, they’ll tell you. They’ll say we’re a city that has moved forward in the past and could have continued moving forward with, as the Observer calls it, a “pragmatic,” “incremental” step toward better progress — all halted, that is, by LGBT allies LaWana Mayfield and John Autry.

But it’s all rhetoric, and slim on facts, shifting blame for Council’s 6-5 rejection of LGBT-inclusive non-discrimination ordinances to Councilmembers LaWana Mayfield and John Autry — two who truly stood for progress — while giving a pass to those who truly stood for discrimination.

Charlotte’s LGBT-inclusive ordinances didn’t fail because of Mayfield’s and Autry’s stand for full inclusion; their stands would have fully constituted the very meaning of progressive if they had been heeded by the rest of Council.

Rather, the ordinances failed because Charlotte City Council lacked the political and moral courage, fortitude and conviction to do something simple, something undertaken by nearly all of our peer cities and those larger than us.

Council lacked the will to fully protect all LGB and T citizens. They cowered to fear and discrimination and forced an absolutely unnecessary and dangerous compromise that stripped out protections primarily for transgender people.

This compromise was neither “pragmatic” nor “incremental.” It has existed in no other major city that’s passed similar ordinances. And, rest assured, if the compromise had passed, the restroom carve out wouldn’t have been touched or modified anytime soon. Transgender people, as has often been the case, would have been left behind, unprotected in places where they often need it the most.

Instead of directing anger and blame at Mayfield and Autry — as the Observer and others in our community have done — we should direct the blame squarely where it belongs: to the Council members who stood determined to maintain Charlotte’s discriminatory status quo and deny full equality and inclusion for all her citizens.

If Council and all of its nine Democrats — primarily Michael Barnes, Claire Fallon and Greg Phipps — had stood for the original, fully inclusive package, there would have been no need for the compromise. There would have been no need for allies like Al Austin, Patsy Kinsey and Vi Lyles to bend to pressure and, “with great trepidation,” Austin explained, support the imperfect package — in itself a desperate bid to save the city’s so-called progressive reputation.

“To anyone who doesn’t care to learn the details of what transpired Monday,” writes the Observer, “Charlotte merely looks like a city that doesn’t seem particularly bothered about discrimination.”

The Observer and others should look more closely at the details themselves — and all the underlying wishful thinking that prompted us to believe we could and should move forward for some, but not for all.

We can tell ourselves we live in a progressive, New South city. We can say we’re moving forward. But the ordinance rejection proves we’re not. The arguments used in November 1992, when Council last voted on and rejected similar protections, won the day again nearly 23 years later. Then, the opposition — religious leaders from Charlotte’s and North Carolina’s leading anti-LGBT churches and organizations — painted gay men as sexual perverts and predators. This time, their arguments targeted transgender people. The result? The same.

Our Charlotte Way myth might make us feel better, but it’s a false reality. The truth is harder to hear. It is time, particularly for LGBT people and our allies, that we finally face facts. This is not a politically LGBT-friendly city and it has rarely ever been.

To change that, we’ll have to get angry, get active, get involved. Vote out the Council people who stood against our equality. Hold institutions and agencies — from media to political parties to businesses — accountable for their anti-LGBT prejudices, biases and actions. Stop associating with companies or institutions that work against our humanity and equality and throw our support behind those that do.

That is how we will make change. Demanding it. Every day. All day. Without exception. Without compromise. Without the myth and wishful thinking. : :

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

4 replies on “The Charlotte that is, not the feel-good myth we wish to see”

  1. Thanks for presenting the reality as it is Matt. Charlotte is not a world class city, not a first class city, heck not even a second class city. Not “new south”. Charlotte proved that it is indeed an old south city clinging to the outdated, bigoted and backwards ways of the past. Stuck in the middle of the last century…maybe even in the middle of the century before. Don’t give up the fight!

  2. Thank you for this excellent piece. Do you happen to have a list of all the business owners that spoke against the ordinance on Monday?

  3. The compromise was no less “dangerous” for transgender individuals than the bill going down to defeat. I get amended out provision was a really important part of the bill but at the end of the day we didn’t have the votes. We had the votes on making sexual orientation and gender identity protected classes in Charlotte, was that really worthless?

  4. How would you have us hold businesses that signed their opposition accountable? We could just refrain from giving them our patronage.

Comments are closed.