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Protecting LGBT residents from discrimination in Charlotte

A no-brainer for new, post-election leaders

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In one week, Charlotte will have elected a new mayor and possibly multiple new city council members. They'll take their oaths in December and immediately find themselves staring down a number of important challenges and opportunities facing the Queen City — affordable housing, residential growth and development, municipal IDs and the integration of local immigrants, transit infrastructure, crime, taxes and more. The city faces a slew of hot-button and complicated issues like these. I don't envy the position in which our new leaders will find themselves when it comes time to make decisions.

Their decision on one important issue, though, should be relatively easy enough. Council left the topic lingering over Charlotte this spring when it voted down new ordinances on public accommodations and other non-discrimination protections. Primarily, the proposal would have protected LGBT residents from discrimination in restaurants, bars, hotels, taxicabs and other places of public accommodation, as well as prohibit city contractors from engaging in anti-LGBT discrimination.

The proposal in March had been debated for months. It attracted significant opposition from anti-LGBT religious leaders. Even after its failure, the package of ordinance changes continued to be discussed. LGBT advocacy groups and activists have spent time discussing the issue with key stakeholders and educating community members on the inclusion of transgender people — their use of public restrooms, in particular, became a sticking point for some council members and was the go-to scare tactic used by conservatives to support their discriminatory agenda. The proposed ordinances also became an electoral and campaign issue for mayoral and council candidates, with LGBT organizations coming together in August to present the largest LGBT-oriented primary debate in the city's history. The issue was the topic of mainstream media coverage and debates. By far, LGBT issues took center stage in local electoral politics this year than in any other time in Charlotte's history.

Charlotte's proposal faced statewide opposition, too. The NC Values Coalition, an anti-LGBT lobbying group which led the push against Charlotte's ordinances, enlisted the help of its executive director's son-in-law, N.C. Sen. Chad Barefoot, in the waning hours of this year's legislative session. Barefoot and other Republican lawmakers attempted to preempt local governments' ability to pass LGBT-inclusive non-discrimination ordinances. That proposal failed — remarkably so, I might add, when Republicans in the House revolted against the Senate's eleventh-hour attempt to hijack an unrelated bill by adding in the new restrictions on local government.

That Republicans themselves paused to reflect on the wisdom of such a restriction — and to buck the influence of the NC Values Coalition — is a tell-tale sign of our times. Senate GOP leaders had specifically sought to limit the expansion of LGBT civil rights at a municipal level. It was, no doubt, a direct attack against LGBT people. Other Republicans, regardless of how they might personally feel on LGBT issues, put a stop to the effort. It seems some Republicans are finally beginning to wise up. In 2015, the issue of LGBT inclusion has become a no-brainer for most citizens and residents. To be opposed to equality is to face near-certain backlash from families and voters across the state who love and cherish their LGBT siblings, children, co-workers and friends.

The legislature's decision to pass on these restrictions provides Charlotte's new leaders all the leeway they need in crafting local protections and addressing longstanding issues of anti-LGBT discrimination.

All our new leaders need is the will to do what is right. In March, our leaders lacked that will, embarrassingly coming short of the kind of leadership exhibited by another southern city facing similar opportunities.

A few short weeks after next week's election, our new leaders will be sworn into office. They should immediately bring Charlotte's LGBT-inclusive non-discrimination ordinances back up for a vote and pass them without reservation and without delay. It's an easy, common sense opportunity our new leaders can tackle, making way for the time and energy they'll need to lead our city on other more pressing and complicated issues.

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