Charlotte passes transgender rights law: Will North Carolina let it stand?

The controversial measure bans discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation, gender identity, and gender expression in housing and places of public accommodation.

Joe Ahlquist/The Argus Leader/AP
Dozens of people protest outside a legislative coffee in downtown Sioux Falls, S.D., where legislators discussed issues in the current session, including the transgender bathroom bill, on Saturday. On Monday in North Carolina, the Charlotte City Council passed a law allowing transgender people to choose public bathrooms that correspond to their gender identity.

The city of Charlotte, N.C., leapt to the forefront of a national debate on LGBT rights on Monday with the passing of a law granting transgender people the right to use the bathroom that corresponds to their gender identity.

The law, passed by the Charlotte City Council in a 7-4 vote and set to take effect in April, bans discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation, gender identity, and gender expression in housing and places of public accommodation. The measure includes a controversial revision that allows transgender residents to choose to restrooms corresponding to the gender with which they identify.

Similar so-called bathroom bills have sparked heated debates in local and state governments around the United States in recent months. Supporters of such bills see the provision as a preservation of the dignity and safety of transgender individuals. Opponents say that the measure opens the door for sexual predators to gain access to bathrooms of the opposite sex.

The debate has become particularly contentious when it comes to restrooms and locker room facilities in public schools. Charlotte's law does not extend to public schools, but that has not removed contention from the debate, which has set the city's Democratic mayor to butt heads with the Republican governor.

"I'm pleased that Charlotte has sent a signal that we will treat people with dignity and respect, even when we disagree," Charlotte Mayor Jennifer Roberts said moments after the vote.

North Carolina Gov. Pat McCrory (R) has previously said that considers the provision allowing transgender people to select which bathroom they use to be a threat to public safety and has warned lawmakers that the state could step in to negate the vote.

"This action of allowing a person with male anatomy, for example, to use a female restroom or locker room will most likely cause immediate State legislative intervention which I would support as governor," Governor McCrory wrote in the email to two Council members.

More than 140 members of the public packed a council hearing before the vote. Some self-identified Christian conservatives, also expressed concerns that the nondiscrimination law would allow transgender people – and men posing as trans – to sexually assault women in restrooms.

Bathroom attacks has been a potent argument for blocking and repealing LGBT nondiscrimination laws, yet there are no, “documented cases in the 17 states and 225 other cities with such laws on the books of people using the policies for nefarious purposes,” according to Buzzfeed news.

Last year, concerns over such attacks torpedoed a similar nondiscrimination bill in Houston. Similar concerns prompted South Dakota legislators to pass a bill earlier this month requiring students to use bathrooms corresponding to their sex at birth. The governor has expressed support for the measure but also said that he will do more research before deciding to sign or veto the bill.

This is not the the first time the Charlotte City Council has introduced such a bill. A similar measure was narrowly defeated by the Charlotte City Council in March 2015, even after the removal of a provision that would have allowed bathroom use based on gender identity. Local officials later announced that transgender people could use the bathrooms corresponding to their gender identity in the city- and county-owned facilities.

Advocacy group Equality NC issued a statement criticizing McCrory for "perpetuating the same tired and debunked myths about transgender people and public safety."

Other opponents of the measure – including some clergy and business owners – have sent the City Council a letter saying businesses should have the right to refuse service based on sexual orientation or gender identity.

This report contains materials from The Associated Press.

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