North Carolina Debates Transgender Rights
ERIC WESTERVELT, HOST:
Advocates for LGBT right say they're seeing a lot more legislation that discriminates against transgender students. In South Dakota, the governor's considering signing a bill on his desk that prohibits public school students from using the bathroom for a gender other than the one they were born with. That will be the first state law of its kind. And in North Carolina, state lawmakers say they plan to halt a new city ordinance that just passed in Charlotte allowing transgender people to use the bathroom of their choice. From member station WFAE in Charlotte, Sarah Delia has our story.
SARAH DELIA, BYLINE: Just before the vote, Charlotte City Council chambers were at capacity. There were also five overflow rooms and those were packed. Some people even had to listen from the lobby. The crowd was waiting to hear the fate of the city's nondiscrimination ordinance, which makes it illegal for businesses like hotels, restaurants and taxi services to refuse service to LGBT people.
JENNIFER ROBERTS: OK, so we have that passing 7 to 4. And thank you very much.
DELIA: That applause and the vote may give the appearance this was an easy decision - not so. This ordinance has been hanging around for more than a year. And the most contentious part is about bathrooms. A key argument against the ordinance was that it would make bathrooms unsafe for women and children. Here's Charlotte mother Pam Burton.
PAM BURTON: I'm not scared of transgenders. That's not what I think the problem is. Sexual predators are not good people. They don't do the right thing. They're going to see this ordinance as a golden opportunity for fresh victims - our children. My 16-year-old daughter swims at The Y year-round. I'm not going to be able to confidently continue to allow her to use that locker room if this passes.
DELIA: This battle between the city and state regarding LGBT protections isn't unique to Charlotte or North Carolina. The advocacy group Human Rights Campaign says across the country, 16 states are considering legislation to limit bathroom and locker room use or allow business owners to deny service to transgender people. For example, in South Dakota, the governor has a bill on his desk that would prohibit transgender students from using the bathrooms of their gender identity when they're at school. Lara Nazario, a transgender woman in Charlotte, doesn't understand all the fear.
LARA NAZARIO: They're afraid that I or people like me are going to victimize children or cis-gender individuals. This idea is opposite to the reality that I live in. If I were to walk into a men's bathroom, I would either be told that I'm in the wrong bathroom or I'd be outed as a transgender woman. This can often lead to violence or harassment, especially when there's no protection in place for people like me.
DELIA: When Charlotte passed the ordinance this week, it became the most extensive nondiscrimination ordinance in North Carolina, according to Cathryn Oakley, a lawyer at the Human Rights Campaign.
CATHRYN OAKLEY: At the same time that I want to praise Charlotte for being on the forefront in North Carolina, I do also want to point out that they are the 18th of the 20 largest cities in the country to have a nondiscrimination ordinance. So this ordinance really makes Charlotte more comparable to their peers, even though in the state of North Carolina, they are a leader.
DELIA: So while Charlotte may lead the state when it comes to nondiscrimination ordinances, it's still playing catch-up nationally. Less than 24 hours after the local ordinance passed, North Carolina's House speaker said he'd fight to overturn it. And the governor, Pat McCrory, said he would support that. These changes in Charlotte take effect April 1. The state legislature will be back in session April 25, unless a special session is called. Either way, Charlotte's nondiscrimination ordinance will likely be at the top of the agenda. For NPR News, I'm Sarah Delia in Charlotte.
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