Raleigh, N.C. — The state House voted 115-0 Thursday to add language barring discrimination to the state's charter school law, two days after a debate over adding LGBT protections to the same bill roiled the state's political waters.
That measure was an amendment to a broader package of changes to state charter school laws that the Senate has already approved and which House members have changed but largely kept intact.
Although charter schools, which are publicly funded but run by private nonprofits, can be controversial, the package of changes designed to streamline their administration has been relatively uncontroversial. Senators passed the measure 49-0. Stam calls pedophilia, sadism 'sexual orientations'
But on Tuesday, Rep. Susan Fisher, D-Buncombe, offered an amendment that would have banned charters from discrimination in hiring or admissions on the grounds of "sexual orientation or gender identity."
That amendment drew opposition from Rep. Paul "Skip" Stam, R-Wake, who said pedophilia, necrophilia and bestiality were "sexual orientations." That assertion was viewed as inflammatory because it essentially equated gay and lesbian people to child and animal abusers.
Stam's comments immediately drew rebukes from equality organizations, as well as other members of the House. He was lampooned in the national media, and House Speaker Thom Tillis, who is running for U.S. Senate, was forced to issue a rebuke of his senior deputy, calling Stam's remarks "not helpful."
When the bill came to the floor again Thursday, Rep. Marcus Brandon, D-Guilford, offered an amendment that would have specifically prevented charter schools from denying entry to students based on their sexual orientation.
"You have people in this country and this state who don't quite understand the law or want to bend the law to their point of view," said Brandon, the lone openly gay member of the General Assembly.
Brandon said that he has always felt valued as a member of the legislature, but he said that's not always the case for children in school situations.
"I'm entitled to everything you're entitled to, not because I'm black, not because I'm a Democrat, not because I'm gay, but because I'm an American," he said.
But Rep. David Lewis, R-Harnett, pointed to problems he saw with the Brandon amendment and called for a procedural vote that killed the measure.
Lewis then offered up his own amendment which would have prevented schools from discriminating based on definitions in federal statute. When Lewis was asked what those definitions might be, he could not explain them, and he was forced to delay consideration of his own amendment.
That left Rep. Nathan Ramsey, R-Buncombe, to offer up a third non-discrimination amendment. His specified that a "charter school shall not discriminate against any student with respect to any category protected under the United States Constitution or under federal law applicable to the states."
It won the backing of Brandon and others who had been battling over the other two amendments, and the chamber voted 115-0 to add it to the bill.
Stam didn't speak during the debate. House members added another amendment to the bill that would exempt the names, but not salaries or positions, of charter school employees from public records.
The overall bill passed 97-18 and now heads back to the Senate for a concurrence vote.