LGBT community groups in Charlotte and North Carolina are renewing their lobbying and education efforts on a package of local non-discrimination ordinances voted down by City Council in the spring. The continued advocacy push, leaders say, follows a successful campaign season that increased a pro-LGBT majority in city leadership.
The renewed attention has also picked up steam in the media and among opponents.
Following the referendum defeat of the Houston Equal Rights Ordinance last week, the Washington Post singled out Charlotte among seven other cities which still lack local non-discrimination protections for LGBT residents. Houston is the largest, with only two other cities larger than Charlotte, San Antonio, Texas, and Jacksonville, Fla., lacking similar protections.
Locally, the Charlotte Observer’s editorial board has proclaimed, “It’s Charlotte’s turn, again, for an LGBT battle.”
Anti-LGBT religious organizations and leaders are vowing to stop any LGBT-inclusive advance at the local level across the country. Word came just this week that city leaders in Dallas had extended their non-discrimination protections to protect transgender residents. The same forces who campaigned against Houston’s ordinance are gearing up for a new battle there.
North Carolina’s anti-LGBT leaders are ready, too. Tami Fitzgerald, executive director of the NC Values Coalition, told the Daily Tar Heel that Houston’s campaign was a “common sense defeat.” She called local non-discrimination ordinances “dangerous” and vowed to continue fighting them in North Carolina cities.
“We will fight them like we did in Charlotte, and we expect to defeat them,” Fitzgerald said.
Local LGBT leaders don’t seem to be worried about Fitzgerald or other opponents. This fall, Equality North Carolina, the Mecklenburg LGBT Political Action Committee and the Human Rights Campaign teamed up to present a mutually endorsed slate of City Council candidates. They say their efforts led to the election of at least seven or eight pro-LGBT votes for the ordinance, and they seem confident their new pro-LGBT Council leadership will take the necessary steps to pass the ordinances.
Conversations have already begun with the new or returning city leaders, along with other community partners.
LGBT Democrats of Mecklenburg County President Cameron Joyce said his group has plan to talk with each Council member by January. Chad Turner, president of the LGBT Chamber of Commerce, is also continuing his conversations. The LGBT Chamber, he said, is discussing the issue with business leaders and partners across the city.
More than lobbying, though, leaders also say a concerted education effort must begin.
Joyce pointed to the HERO campaign, largely criticized in the last week for its lack of transgender-inclusive messaging or educational efforts. [RELATED: After election, new challenges and opportunities for Charlotte’s LGBT community]
“Things will need to be done differently. Since we supposedly elected a majority, the steps will likely be more of a community education aspect on transgender rights,” Joyce said. “The HERO failure is a guide on what not to do, and trans issues will also/again be our biggest challenge.”
Chris Sgro, executive director of Equality North Carolina, shared similar sentiments.
“We are going to have to commit, obviously, to trans education to familiarize not just the general public but also the LGBT community with trans people and trans issues,” Sgro said. “It’s important to me that that be a commitment not only during the course of the ordinance discussion and that it doesn’t come and go with that discussion.”
Sgro said his group is looking at a variety of educational initiatives, including identifying and training transgender community issues. He said the community needs “comfortable and confident trans spokespeople on these issues so these are trans-led conversations.”
Locally, as they have nationally, transgender education and awareness efforts have begun to take center stage.
Recently, a new short documentary film exploring transgender youth inclusion debuted in Charlotte. The film, part of the local “Souls of our Students” series is used in anti-bullying and inclusion trainings by school staff and students in Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools and other districts across the country. Charlotte Pride, on whose board I serve as a member, sponsored the film’s premiere and this year began a separate transgender educational and leadership initiative of its own. Time Out Youth, too, is taking on a broader focus on trans youth, hiring their first-ever transgender outreach and education staffer this year. The Charlotte Lesbian & Gay Fund also made trans visibility and inclusion a priority this year, featuring a transgender keynote speaker for their annual fundraiser in June.
Leaders say the continued focus on transgender awareness and visibility will be key for future inclusion and advocacy efforts, Sgro said.
Said Sgro, “If we’re going to change minds in Charlotte, this has to be ongoing work.”