Charlotte repeals LGBT ordinance in deal to undo HB2

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BY CHRIS JOHNSON  |  In a surprise move, the Charlotte City Council voted unanimously Monday morning to rescind its LGBT non-discrimination ordinance as part of a deal in which the North Carolina Legislature would rescind its anti-LGBT law known as House Bill 2.

Governor-elect Roy Cooper, who recently defeated Gov. Pat McCrory in the gubernatorial election, said in a statement he received assurances from lawmakers they would undo the anti-LGBT law as a result of the city council’s actions.

“Senate Leader Phil Berger and House Speaker Tim Moore assured me that as a result of Charlotte’s vote, a special session will be called for Tuesday to repeal HB2 in full,” Cooper said. “I hope they will keep their word to me and with the help of Democrats in the legislature, HB2 will be repealed in full. Full repeal will help to bring jobs, sports and entertainment events back and will provide the opportunity for strong LGBT protections in our state.”

The 10-member city council voted unanimously to repeal its non-discrimination ordinance without any prior notice that the issue would be part of its hearing Monday morning.

The vehicle for repeal was a resolution acknowledging “several ordinances that have been preempted and invalidated by state laws over the past 10 years” and remain on the books, such as a cable TV ordinance and a business privilege license tax, and therefore should be repealed. Also denoted in the resolution is the authority enabling the council to “enact new ordinances” should the legislature restore the city’s authority to enact the measures.

The resolution states if North Carolina doesn’t act to repeal HB2 in its entirety by Dec. 31, the act to repeal the LGBT non-discrimination ordinance and other city measures “shall not be valid.”

Enacted in February, the Charlotte ordinance sought to bar discrimination against LGBT people within the municipality. The provision against discrimination in public accommodations, such as by denying transgender people access to restrooms consistent with their gender identity, caused an uproar among anti-transgender forces.

Lawmakers in the state legislature and Gov. Pat McCrory cited the bathroom provision as the reason for passing HB2, which bars cities from enacting pro-LGBT ordinances and prohibits transgender people from using the public restroom in schools and government buildings in accordance with their gender identity.

The law resulted in an outcry from LGBT advocates who called for repeal as well as business leaders who cancelled expansions in the state, performers who nixed events there and athletic associations, including the National Basketball Association, which cancelled games in the state. The estimated economic loss to North Carolina — which also impacted Charlotte — was $400 million.

It’s not the first time the Charlotte City Council considered repealing the LGBT non-discrimination ordinance. The council considered such action in May and again in September, but ultimately declined to take that action.

The Charlotte City Council issued a statement asserting the city “continues its commitment to be a welcoming community that honors and respects all people,” suggesting it will revisit the issue of non-discrimination after HB2 repeal.

“The City of Charlotte is deeply dedicated to protecting the rights of all people from discrimination and, with House Bill 2 repealed, will be able to pursue that priority for our community,” the statement says. “There are many issues that require a positive and collaborative relationship between the City and State. The City pledges commitment to that partnership.”

Although LGBT advocates vigorously fought a deal to repeal the Charlotte LGBT ordinance in exchange for HB2 repeal under McCrory, they issued statements after the Charlotte vote accepting the plan now that Cooper has been elected.

Chad Griffin, president of the Human Rights Campaign, said Cooper “has briefed us on a deal he brokered with state lawmakers” that would result in repeal of HB2.

“HB2 is precisely why North Carolinians went to the polls and ousted Gov. McCrory last month,” Griffin added. “It’s time to chart a new course guided by the state’s values of dignity and respect, not discrimination and hate — and to ensure non-discrimination protections exist in cities, towns and across the state of North Carolina.”

Chris Sgro, executive director of Equality North Carolina, insisted the blame rested with the North Carolina Legislature, not Charlotte, for the economic harm caused to the state as a result of HB2.

“The Charlotte City Council and mayor did the right thing by passing their ordinance — HB2 is wrong,” Sgro said. “Since its passage, the deeply discriminatory HB2 has hurt our economy and people. Now, the General Assembly must fully repeal HB2 so that we can start the necessary talks for protecting LGBTQ people and bring back businesses across the state. We look forward to working with Governor-elect Cooper to win protections community by community and statewide.”

One LGBT advocate objecting to the deal is Simone Bell, southern regional director for Lambda Legal, who said it amounts to treating LGBT rights as “a bargaining chip.”

“Charlotte shouldn’t have had to repeal its ordinance in exchange for HB2 to be repealed,” Bell said. “LGBT people in North Carolina still need protection from discrimination. The right action is for the North Carolina Legislature to pass a statewide comprehensive civil rights bill that includes full protections for LGBT people.”

The legislative offices of Moore and Berger didn’t immediately respond to the Washington Blade’s request for comment on whether the legislature would in fact move forward with HB2 repeal now that Charlotte has repealed its pro-LGBT ordinance.

Graham Wilson, a McCrory spokesperson, confirmed the governor would convene a special session to repeal HB2, but said delay over rescinding the LGBT ordinance after earlier refusals affirms the outcry over the state law was always about politics.

“This sudden reversal with little notice after the gubernatorial election sadly proves this entire issue originated by the political left was all about politics and winning the governor’s race at the expense of Charlotte and our entire state,” Wilson said. “As promised, Gov. McCrory will call a special session.”

— from The Washington Blade

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