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Testimony of a failed ordinance

More than 100 people spoke for and against LGBT protections at City Council meeting

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A teenage transgender girl, an older woman and two young girls walk into a bathroom ...

No punchline here ­— this really happened at Monday night's almost six-hour City Council meeting. As the teen exited, two grown men who were hanging outside the women's restroom yelled at her and called her a "pervert." One of them, Flip Benham, has been convicted in the past of stalking.

What timing. As the teenager was being accosted for her choice to use the women's restroom, a nondiscrimination ordinance would be voted on later that evening that included a provision allowing transgender people to use the facilities that match their gender identity without fear of harassment.

It's that provision that brought out a couple hundred people to offer support of or opposition against the proposal.

Although the bathroom incident that unfolded during debate demonstrated why transgender citizens, especially children, need to be protected from harassment, opponents said passing it would be the real danger ... to children. They claimed the law would open a floodgate of heterosexual men disguising themselves as women and hiding in bathrooms to sexually assault women and young girls.

But the ordinance was about more than bathrooms. It also would've made it illegal for city contractors, taxi companies and businesses to discriminate against citizens on the basis of their sexual orientation, marital status, familial status, gender identity or gender expression.

Passions ran high at a rally held before the council meeting. From a stage flanked by signs containing words like "homo-nazis" and "perverts," religious radio host Michael Brown and the aforementioned Flip Benham told the crowd they had a message of love for the gay community, then proceeded to rant about gay rights destroying the morals of our nation and how the Christian community is being systematically oppressed.

Opposition to the nondiscrimination ordinance held a rally outside Government Center before the City Council meeting - KIMBERLY LAWSON
  • Kimberly Lawson
  • Opposition to the nondiscrimination ordinance held a rally outside Government Center before the City Council meeting

KIMBERLY LAWSON
  • Kimberly Lawson

Another speaker, Jason Jimenez, told the story of a heterosexual man in Milwaukee who had entered a women's locker room dressed as a female and talked to several girls before he was discovered. He blamed this incident on that city having a similar nondiscrimination ordinance.

Many cities have these type of protections. In fact, out of the 200 largest cities in the U.S., Charlotte is one of only three that do not have this type of legislation. Some cities have had it on the books for decades. Minneapolis, for instance, passed its in 1975.

Inside the chamber, 117 speakers stood before City Council and spoke about why they were for or against the ordinance. The first 22 speakers opposed the ordinance, and out of those 22, only seven were from Charlotte. In fact, most of the opposition came from surrounding communities like Concord, Monroe, Matthews, Pineville and Mount Holly — not from Charlotte residents. Speakers quoted scripture and Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., and they spoke about their fear. They said they would feel uncomfortable and oppressed if they were forced to share a bathroom with a transgender person. They spoke about their children being molested as if it could only happen, and most assuredly would, if this ordinance passed.

Other speakers were just as passionate, if not a little amusing. One guy talked about shy bladder syndrome. Another mentioned imps. Kristin McCora revealed that she was once a member of the YMCA, and when she went into the sauna there, she sometimes saw elderly women's bare breasts and vaginas. She was afraid the law could lead to her seeing penises as well in the future.

There was also some performance: To illustrate his stance on the issue, Pastor Steve Triplett of Fellowship Baptist Church sang a song about how two roosters on a farm don't walk arm in arm.

Other speakers used hyperbole (we think) to drive home their points. Jordan Roose of Monroe stated that if all of Charlotte could be included in the council chambers, he was certain every citizen would unanimously agree this ordinance shouldn't pass. Pastor Nathan Atwood of St. Giles Presbyterian Church, a white man, informed us that black people did not appreciate gay rights being linked to civil rights.

Some against the ordinance said it wasn't about discrimination. "I'm respectful of the GBLT community, and it's important to say they are people," said one woman, courageously.

"This isn't about discrimination; this is about a 14-year-old going to the bathroom," said a man who brought his teenage daughter to the podium.

Opponent after opponent spoke, worrying about the safety of heterosexual children, but never once did they express concern about the safety of homosexual or transgender children.

The ordinance had its supporters, too. Crystal Richardson, a Charlotte attorney, wondered why Charlotte now protects her from being discriminated against because she's black, but not because she's gay. John Grooms of Charlotte (and CL's former editor) assured the room that change is inevitable, but it doesn't have to be scary. St. John's Baptist Church passed out shirts that read "god loves everyone." Sam Spencer of Davidson and Dr. Tara Collins of Charlotte both attempted to explain the concept of gender identity, while others tried to remind opponents that the vast majority of sexual assaults are perpetrated by assailants who already know their victims, not by strangers cross-dressing in a restroom.

John Hartness of Charlotte quoted the Bill of Rights and said, "By continuing to treat people as second-class citizens, we're being third-rate Americans," and many supporters spoke about the economic impact LGBT citizens have in our community and the need for our city to appear modern and accommodating to all when trying to attract major companies to locate here.

Despite a strong showing of support for the ordinance from actual Charlotte residents, the fear campaign from its detractors infected City Council. Once public debate was over, council quickly passed an amendment to eliminate the bathroom protection for transgender citizens.

John Autry (District 5) and Lawana Mayfield (District 3) were the only two council members who voted against the amendment, Mayfield saying, "I cannot support an amendment that doesn't protect all of our citizens."

When the ordinance was finally put to a vote, it failed 6-5.

Perhaps one day soon, Charlotte's LGBT citizens will enjoy the same protections their counterparts in Minneapolis and other major cities have had for years. But Monday was not that day.

But at least we can all rest assured that our children are 100 percent safe from sexual assault now, right?

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