Metro Weekly

Charlotte City Council considering repealing nondiscrimination ordinance

"Compromise" could pave way for repeal of HB 2 law, but governor and the legislature aren't promising anything

Mayor Jennifer Roberts (center) and members of the Charlotte City Council (Photo: CharlotteNC.Gov).
Mayor Jennifer Roberts (center) and members of the Charlotte City Council (Photo: CharlotteNC.Gov).

It’s the potential “compromise” that seems premised on the idea of the LGBT community and its allies doing more of the compromising.

According to the Charlotte Business Journal, some business leaders are urging the Charlotte City Council to make the first move by repealing the nondiscrimination ordinance it approved back in February. That ordinance, which has since been nullified by passage of HB 2, prohibits discrimination against LGBT people in employment, housing, public accommodations and several other areas.

In exchange for the City Council repealing its nondiscrimination ordinance, or so the rationale goes, the legislature and Gov. Pat McCrory (R) could consider repealing HB 2, which was enacted to prevent the nondiscrimination protections for public accommodations — namely, public restrooms — from going into effect. But here’s the rub: neither Republican leaders who control the General Assembly nor McCrory has explicitly agreed to repeal HB 2, even if the Council rescinds the ordinance.

Still, as they have since February, local business leaders and groups have cited the negative publicity stemming from HB 2’s passage as a threat to tourism and business opportunities, saying some type of action must be taken. That led the Charlotte Chamber of Commerce to lean heavily on the Charlotte City Council to “rebuild trust” with lawmakers in Raleigh by rescinding its ordinance.

Unlike other local chambers in Raleigh and Durham, which have explicitly called for a repeal of HB 2, the Charlotte Chamber has never called for the statewide law to be repealed. In a statement published on its website, and, subsequently, in The Charlotte Observer, Bob Morgan, the CEO and president of the Charlotte Chamber, called upon the Council to “take the first step in a process we hope leads to reforms to HB2” while reiterating that the Chamber does not support discriminatory measures that single out any single group. Morgan attempted to argue that if the Council refused to rescind the ordinance, the state legislature would be unwilling to budge, thus resulting in the continuation of “crushing economic suffering, much of it hurting low wage hospitality workers.”

But Morgan’s overtures calling for compromise appear to have backfired, according to The Charlotte Observer. On Monday, the Human Rights Campaign (HRC) held a conference call with reporters, during which the group’s president, Chad Griffin, accused the Chamber of attempting to “bully” the City Council into eliminating the protections enshrined it the ordinance.

Griffin also contended that, based on personal conversations with several corporations who are members of the Chamber, that Morgan’s decision to place pressure on the City Council runs counter to the wishes of the Chamber’s membership.

In response, Morgan issued a statement taking “great offense at the suggestion that we support discrimination of any sort,” adding that he staked out his position only after receiving unanimous support from the leadership of the Chamber.

But just in case any Council members were considering wavering on their support for the nondiscrimination ordinance, HRC threw down the gauntlet, pledging to campaign against any candidates who vote to repeal the underlying ordinance. It’s a threat that could prove potent, as HRC has previously flexed its muscle in Charlotte city politics. The organization campaigned on behalf of three council candidates, all of whom voted in favor of the ordinance in February. The Council is expected to meet this week to discuss their options with respect to repeal.

Earlier this month, Charlotte Mayor Jennifer Roberts (D), who had been engaged in talks with General Assembly leadership over whether a compromise could be forged, told attendees of a meeting of the Charlotte Lesbian and Gay Fund that council members had no intention of rescinding support for the ordinance.

“When people talk about compromising on equality, I think, ‘How?'” Roberts said. “Do you make them half equal? It doesn’t work with math, and it doesn’t work with people. Equality is equality.”

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