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Charlotte City Council to take up LGBT non-discrimination ordinances in February

Charlotte City Council to take up LGBT non-discrimination ordinances in February

Charlotte City Council is tentatively scheduled to reconsider a package of LGBT-inclusive non-discrimination ordinances at a vote on Feb. 8, following a community forum on the measures planned by the Charlotte Community Relations Committee and Community Building Initiative.

The Mecklenburg LGBT Political Action Committee (MeckPAC) announced the long-expected vote and forum this weekend, after Mayor Jennifer Roberts had promised to bring the hotly debated proposal back to a vote early this year.

On Feb. 1, the Community Relations Committee and Community Building Initiative will convene a forum to discuss the ordinances, which would add sexual orientation and gender identity, among other characteristics, to ordinances barring discrimination in public accommodations, passenger vehicles for hire and by city contractors. The forum will be held Feb. 1, 6:30 p.m., at the Palmer Building, 2601 E. 7th St., Charlotte, NC, 28204.

“The forum is intended to be educational and informative and allow Charlotte citizens to talk with one another about what’s at stake with these ordinances and how they will affect our lives,” an event announcement by MeckPAC reads.

The package of non-discrimination ordinances faced heated debate and community conversation nearly this time last year. At a March 2 meeting, the ordinances were voted down after they were amended to strip out public accommodations protections for restrooms.

Charlotte Business Journal writer Erik Spanberg recently reported that an attempt by Charlotte to amend their non-discrimination ordinances could spark a fight with state lawmakers. Mecklenburg Republican state Rep. Dan Bishop has urged City Council not to take up the measure.

From Spanberg:

The Republican strategist told me Wednesday that the possibility of Roberts and council passing an ordinance is being closely watched by state lawmakers, who would likely move to undo it.

State Rep. Dan Bishop (R-Mecklenburg) told me an ordinance “is an extraordinarily divisive thing” and said he believes “it’s opposed by an overwhelming majority of Charlotteans.”

[…]

“I hope cooler heads will prevail and they’ll decide not to go down this path,” he said. Bishop declined to discuss what he and others in the General Assembly might do if an ordinance passes in Charlotte, saying his job is to get along with the city.

Advocates aren’t sure the General Assembly will interfere, but it’s a concern if they do. I spoke to Equality NC Executive Director Chris Sgro about that topic for my regular news column for Creative Loafing, to be published this coming week.

Interference from the state legislature, Sgro told me, would endanger the rights of not only LGBT people, but a slew of minorities and call into question the role of state government and its limitations on local authority.

“It would affect every city in the state and go above and beyond the LGBT community,” Sgro said. “This is really an issue of municipal authority to pass commonsense ordinances in any arena, whether it’s fair housing or LGBT protections. Certainly a state takeover of city authority does not represent small government.”

Renewed discussion on the ordinances will likely again stir fierce opposition and debate. Last year, the NC Values Coalition and Charlotte First Baptist Church Pastor Mark Harris, along with other anti-LGBT groups and leaders, summoned a large crowd of dissenters to speak out at the City Council meeting before the vote was held.

The Feb. 1 forum might draw similar opposition, as could the Feb. 8 vote. Advocates I’ve spoken with, however, say they desire to avoid the brouhaha that’s often surrounded similar community forums and conversations on LGBT non-discrimination ordinances in Jacksonville, Fla. There, a series of three community conversations convened by the mayor has resulted in tumultuous meetings, local opposition from a North Carolina-based KKK group and even bomb threats. (For more background on the Jacksonville ordinances, see this archive of stories from Florida Politics.)

Local advocates expect the proposed non-discrimination measures to pass. An election campaign, Turn Out! Charlotte, endorsed a slate of pro-LGBT and pro-ordinance candidates for City Council. By some counts, Council has 8 votes to pass the measures. It requires only six votes to pass.

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