Metro Weekly

McCrory threatens retaliation against Charlotte nondiscrimination ordinance

General Assembly could overturn ordinance or place in on ballot as part of Houston-style referendum

North Carolina Governor Pat McCrory (Credit: Office of the Governor).

North Carolina Governor Pat McCrory (Credit: Office of the Governor).

North Carolina Gov. Pat McCrory and his fellow Republicans from the GOP-dominated North Carolina General Assembly are on the warpath against a recently approved ordinance that prohibits discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity in the city of Charlotte.

The ordinance, approved Monday on a 7-4 vote, prohibits discrimination in public accommodations, such as bars, restaurants, stores, and even taxis. The measure does not apply to public schools.

But, as with many other LGBT-inclusive nondiscrimination ordinances — such as in Houston last year — the ordinance ran into opposition over a provision allowing transgender people to use the bathroom consistent with their gender identity. As in other cities, social conservatives have invoked “bathroom panic,” the idea, based on outdated stereotypes of LGBT people as predators, that transgender people, specifically transgender women, pose a risk to cisgender women and young girls in public restrooms.

A similar ordinance was defeated by the Council in a 6-5 vote last year. But two newly-elected members of the Council changed the political balance, allowing the ordinance to pass, reports The Charlotte Observer

In an email sent to the Council’s two Republicans prior to Monday’s vote, McCrory, himself a former mayor of Charlotte, warned that he and the General Assembly would be forced to take “immediate” action to try and counteract the ordinance if it took effect.

“It is not only the citizens of Charlotte that will be impacted by changing basic restroom and locker room norms but also citizens from across our state and nation who visit and work in Charlotte,” McCrory said in the email. “This shift in policy could also create major public safety issues by putting citizens in possible danger from deviant actions by individuals taking improper advantage of a bad policy. Also, this action of allowing a person with male anatomy, for example, to use a female restroom or locker room will most likely cause immediate State legislative intervention which I would support as governor.”

In North Carolina — which has a hybrid home rule/Dillon’s Rule system — municipalities are granted limited flexibility in terms of ordinances and laws they may pass, but the General Assembly has the final say over what those municipalities are actually able to enact. General Assembly lawmakers, working together with McCrory, could either strike down the entire ordinance, or pass a bill forcing the ordinance to go to a referendum, where voters could decide whether to approve or reject it. The General Assembly is next scheduled to meet in April, and political observers expect the ordinance to become a major priority for lawmakers in Raleigh.

LGBT advocates have criticized McCrory and accused him of scaremongering to pander to his right-wing base in what is not only a presidential election year, but a year when McCrory himself is up for re-election. The LGBT rights group Equality NC accused McCrory of “perpetuating the same tired and debunked myths about transgender people and public safety that opponents to equality have been carting out in Charlotte for over a year.”

“While we were certainly disappointed by this clearly choreographed email exchange, we weren’t surprised that the legislature or this governor would attempt to bully the Charlotte City Council with threats to strip municipalities of their rights to govern,” Chris Sgro, the executive director of Equality NC, said in a statement. “Equality NC commends leaders in Charlotte for preparing to do what many cities North Carolina and across the country have done and what Raleigh has consistently failed to do — protect the LGBT community from discrimination.

“In Equality NC’s 37-year history we have repeatedly seen a handful of extremists in Raleigh attempt to abolish local control through power grabs that would restrict local governments from controlling infrastructure, transportation, local election districts, or even non-discrimination laws. It’s a shame that Governor McCrory has chosen to align himself with these extremists,” Sgro continued. “We remain resolved to work with leaders in Charlotte who are ready to do the right thing and are confident that fair-minded legislators will agree that protecting LGBT residents from discrimination is in the best interest of Charlotte.”

John Riley is the local news reporter for Metro Weekly. He can be reached at jriley@metroweekly.com