Metro Weekly

N.C. lawmakers pass bill overturning Charlotte pro-LGBT ordinance UPDATE: Senate Democrats stage walkout

Proposed bill, now before the Senate, prohibits all localities from passing similar ordinances

North Carolina House Speaker Tim Moore (Photo: Jbrackett74, via Wikimedia).
North Carolina House Speaker Tim Moore (Photo: Jbrackett74, via Wikimedia).

North Carolina lawmakers overwhelmingly approved a bill overturning a pro-LGBT nondiscrimination ordinance passed by the Charlotte City Council last month. The ordinance, which was slated to go into effect on April 1, will now be repealed in its entirety.

UPDATE, 6:40 p.m.: The bill, known as HB2, passed the House by an 83-25 vote. But it only passed the Senate 32-0, after all 16 members of the Senate Democratic caucus staged a walkout and refused to vote on the bill. In the shortened debate leading up to the final vote around 6:30 p.m. on Wednesday, Minority Leader Dan Blue (D-Raleigh) was the only Democrat to speak as his colleagues filtered out of the chamber. Blue urged the upper chamber to reject the bill and knocked General Assembly leaders for calling the special session to reverse the ordinance.

Republicans used the opportunity to bash the Charlotte City Council for exceeding the scope of their powers and aimed their fire at Attorney General Roy Cooper (D), the Democratic nominee for governor against incumbent Pat McCrory (R) this year, for his refusal to file an injunction to stop the ordinance from going into effect.

In addition to repealing the Charlotte ordinance, the bill prevents transgender people from using any bathroom in schools or government buildings other than the one matching the biological sex at birth. While it is not impossible for transgender people to amend the gender on their birth certificates in the Tar Heel State, it is a cumbersome and often costly process, as the person must be able to obtain a note from a physician attesting that he or she has undergone transition-related surgery. 

But HB2 also voids any local ordinances in other cities or municipalities that prohibit discrimination in employment or public accommodations against people who belong to classes not currently recognized as a protected class by the North Carolina General Assembly. Because LGBT people are not recognized as a class protected by North Carolina’s existing civil rights laws, all local municipalities in the state will now be prevented from extending legal protections to the LGBT community.

Unfortunately, this is not the first time that the General Assembly has considered such a move. Last year, lawmakers in the House of Representatives attached an amendment to a sex education bill that would have tied the hands of local municipalities from passing ordinances that go beyond legislation approved by the General Assembly. That amendment would have affected not only those ordinances dealing with LGBT rights, but other issues such as minimum wage, regulations for employment practices, affordable housing, or those guaranteeing access to public accommodations. It was eventually defeated with the help of 23 Republicans, who objected to the manner in which the amendment was snuck into the bill, rather than the content of the amendment.

LGBT advocates have argued that the bill’s restrictions on transgender children’s bathroom use in schools could threaten the nearly $4.5 billion in federal Title IX funds that North Carolina receives each year. Such concerns doomed other “bathroom bills” in South Dakota and Tennessee in recent weeks. But Rep. Dan Bishop (R-Charlotte), the lead sponsor of HB2, pointed out that only the Obama administration’s Department of Education has opined that Title IX prohibits discrimination based on gender identity as well as sex discrimination. During the House debate on the bill, Bishop specifically pointed to the case of Gavin Grimm in Virginia, which is currently being appealed to the 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, noting that no court has yet accepted the Department of Education’s interpretation of Title IX.

Bishop also pointed out that the bill would not prevent private companies with pro-LGBT policies from continuing to adopt such policies as they see fit. But he insisted, as did other supporters, that the measure was necessary to protect the safety of women and children who would be forced to share bathrooms with transgender people, or, as they view it, people of the opposite biological sex.

“The North Carolina legislature owes it to people to reverse this egregious overreach and bad public policy,” he said.

But Rep. Carla Cunningham (D-Charlotte) asked if lawmakers would just be making matters worse by overturning the protections provided by the ordinance.

“Anytime I consider legislation, I always try to ask myself ‘Am I doing any harm?'” Cunningham said in her floor speech. “I cannot support the bill. But I have to ask: Are we doing we harm?”

Freedom for All Americans, a pro-LGBT group opposing HB2, criticized legislative leaders, particularly House Speaker Tim Moore (R-Kings Mountain) and Lt. Gov. Dan Forest (R), who presides over the Senate, for pushing for the one-day special session, which will cost taxpayers $42,000 and usurps the ability of local municipalities to govern themselves.

“Rather than focus on issues that unite North Carolinians and strengthen the state’s future prospects, the legislature is allowing election year politics to drive a divisive agenda — one that has particularly harmful implications for transgender residents and visitors,” said Matt McTighe, the executive director of Freedom for All Americans. “Lawmakers may be intent on rushing this discriminatory legislation through, but we are committed to holding them accountable and advocating for the more than quarter-million LGBT people who call North Carolina home.”

McTighe also pointed to a poll by North Carolina-based Public Policy Polling showing that only 25 percent voters in the state think that the General Assembly should override Charlotte’s ordinance, while 51 percent of North Carolinians believe local communities like Charlotte should have the right to pass their own laws.

“It’s bewildering but telling that Speaker Moore and Lt. Governor Forest are presenting this type of legislation, even in the face of clear opposition from the voters,” he added. “But it’s shameful that those who will feel the brunt of this discriminatory measure are those already the most vulnerable across North Carolina — specifically, transgender youth who face harassment and isolation in school; and LGBT people who simply want the freedom to get a good job and provide for themselves and their loved ones.”

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