On Monday night, the Charlotte, North Carolina, city council voted 7-4 in favor of a non-discrimination ordinance that would prevent businesses that serve the public from discriminating against customers on the basis of sexual orientation or gender identity. The ordinance, set to take effect in April of this year if it goes unchallenged by the state legislature, expands upon an existing law protecting North Carolinians against discrimination based on race, religion, gender, or age -- and includes a provision ensuring that transgender people have access to public restrooms that align with their gender identity. Coming less than a week after South Dakota became the first state senate to pass a transphobic "bathroom bill" denying this very access, Charlotte’s ordinance is a victory for LGBT rights.
Of course, it’s this restroom provision that the opposition has decided to focus on. This pushback is grounded in unfounded paranoia about and obsession with trans bodies, both of which were on display in North Carolina prior to the vote on Monday night. The state’s Republican governor, Pat McCrory, sent an email to Republican council members on Sunday conveying his concern that the ordinance "could also create major public safety issues by putting citizens in possible danger from deviant actions." North Carolina Republican House Speaker Tim Moore told the Charlotte Observer that the House will take steps "to correct this radical course" and overturn or override the city council decision through state legislation specifically targeting the bathroom access provision in the bill.
Opposition voiced during the city council meeting itself ranged from one man claiming to be "gender royal" (while making a royal ass of himself by dressing in a crown and medieval robes) to one adult human being declaring that transgender people are like people who believe they are cats (?!).
Sit with that in your mind for a second. Roll it around between your ears. The lack of understanding for what it means to be trans is so glaring that people are using medieval dinner theater acts and warning against the threat of cat people to express their misplaced hostility and fear. Trans people are not deviants or confused about their gender identity. Trans people are people, and they deserve to have their humanity respected. If this needs to be drilled into the heads of lawmakers ad nauseam until we stop using transphobia as an excuse to treat public bathrooms like top secret military facilities that require strip searches and retinal scans to be entered, then so be it.
So how did that wrongheadedness get vanquished in Charlotte? Glad you asked: Monday’s victory is a result of the work of groups like Equality North Carolina, which saw a similar anti-discrimination measure defeated last year in a 6-5 vote. What changed? For one thing, the city council saw two new liberal-leaning members elected in Julie Eiselt and James Mitchell, both of whom supported the inclusive ordinance. TurnOUT! Charlotte, a coalition that includes the Human Rights Campaign, Equality North Carolina, and MeckPAC, also helped push the ordinance through. This alliance works for equality rights in Mecklenburg County — where Charlotte sits — by pushing for the election of LGBT-friendly candidates and championing laws that better LGBT communities.
You might notice a theme running through this chain of events: local people working with local organizations to push for policy changes and elect local officials that support their goals. This is what’s needed to bring about meaningful, lasting change for people living under the threat of injustice. Charlotte residents should be proud of what they have accomplished. And communities across the country should look at their strategies as an example of what can be accomplished in the face of prejudice. The next time you get it into your head that you don't feel like voting, remember your new acquaintances up there with the robes and the cat fantasies, recall that these citizens' votes count just as much as yours, and ask yourself if you're really OK with letting people like that speak for you.