Charlotte leaders, LGBT groups tell lawmakers to leave transgender ordinance alone

Posted March 17, 2016 12:21 p.m. EDT
Updated March 17, 2016 4:44 p.m. EDT

— Charlotte City Council members and LGBT advocates rallied outside the Legislative Building in downtown Raleigh on Thursday in support of a nondiscrimination ordinance the council passed last month that state lawmakers have vowed to overturn.

The ordinance broadly defines how businesses must treat gay, lesbian and transgender customers, but as in other cities recently, the debate has focused on bathrooms. The measure allows transgendered people to use the bathroom in which they feel most comfortable.

Legislative leaders and other critics say that "poses an imminent threat to public safety," contending that the ordinance would allow sexual predators to go into women's bathrooms and locker rooms.

Lawmakers have proposed holding a special legislative session to block the Charlotte ordinance, which goes into effect April 1. If not, the issue is expected to be among the first addressed when the General Assembly convenes for its regular 2016 session on April 25.

Supporters say the ordinance protects transgender people from being harassed or assaulted for trying to use the restroom and sets a tone of tolerance and acceptance for the Charlotte community.

Erica Lachowitz said she was beaten nearly to death while she was walking down a street 20 years ago for being transgender. Now, she has a family and a job she loves in Charlotte, and she worked to get the ordinance passed, saying forcing her to use a men's room would subject her to harassment and assault.

"I've been using the women's room for a very long time because it is safer for me to do that," Lachowitz said. "I would rather be judged in court than run the risk of getting my face beaten in again, because that is more than likely the outcome of that."

Chris Sgro, executive director of LGBT advocacy group Equality NC, said more than 200 cities around the country have similar ordinances, including Myrtle Beach and Columbia in South Carolina, and no public safety problems have been reported.

"I do not see the South Carolina legislature racing to waste $42,000 a day to fix a problem that poses no actual problem," Sgro said.

"Transgender and gay people deserve to be protected from discrimination. There is not a public safety risk due to these protections, and that is a fact," he continued. "Facts matter, and we cannot allow fear-based lies to drive public discourse as they have sometimes done around this issue."

Sgro and other backers told lawmakers to leave the ordinance in place, saying the General Assembly should respect the will of Charlotte residents, whose elected City Council passed the ordinance overwhelmingly.

Republican lawmakers also are looking to turn the Charlotte ordinance into a political issue in the gubernatorial campaign, calling on Attorney General Roy Cooper, the Democratic nominee for governor, to take action against it.

"Now that he’s done pandering to far-left primary voters, expect the first of many Roy Cooper flip-flops, accompanied by a dramatic announcement that he will do his job and finally stop this illegal and dangerous policy of forcing women and girls to share their bathrooms with grown men," Senate President Pro Tem Phil Berger said in a statement.

The Attorney General's Office reiterated its stance that no action is necessary because local prosecutors can pursue sexual assault or indecent exposure charges if incidents occur in public restrooms or locker rooms.