UPDATE: Senate passes bill reversing Charlotte’s “bathroom ordinance” in 32-0 vote after Senate Democrats walk out in protest before vote. Bill now heads to Gov. Pat McCrory for signing.
Rep. Dan Bishop (R-Mecklenburg), who sponsored the bill, said “I’m pleased and heartened that my colleagues in both chambers of the General Assembly have heard the voices of North Carolina families and businesses and passed the Public Facilities Privacy and Security Act.”
“This important measure reaffirms state law and rectifies the deeply disturbing blunder by the Charlotte City Council in passing a highly controversial ordinance which, by its plain language, banned separate bathrooms and showers for males and females, threatening havoc upon thousands of business establishments and the privacy interests of women and families.
“This voiding of City of Charlotte’s illegal, state-preempted adventurism will insulate councils all across our state from coming under pressure by this narrow interest group intending to bully businesses and citizens into compliance with a radical agenda.”
After emotional testimony about the pros and cons of Charlotte’s “bathroom ordinance,” the North Carolina House approved a bill Wednesday adding language to the state’s nondiscrimination policy and preempting local governments from superseding state law when it comes to employment and public accommodations.
The bill passed 83-24 in a floor vote Wednesday afternoon. The bill now rests in the Senate where. If, as expected, it is approved by the legislature, it will go to Gov. Pat McCrory for signing.
The legislature called the special session in response to changes to Charlotte’s nondiscrimination policy that would allow people to choose which gender-specific facilities to use, like locker rooms, based on what gender they identify with, not their biological gender.
The change would have gone active April 1, prompting the Legislature to return to Raleigh for the day. The General Assembly originally was set to return to Raleigh April 25, leaving nearly a month (or more) during which the change would have been active.
The Charlotte City Council had passed an addition to its non-discrimination ordinance adding marital status, familial status, sexual orientation, and gender identity and gender expression to the list of protected characteristics under its non-discrimination law.
But the controversial piece of the ordinance removed a distinction that prohibits members of the opposite sex from using restrooms, shower rooms, bathhouses and similar facilities meant for the other gender. Effectively the change allows transgendered people to use the bathroom of the gender with which they identify.
The concern for many in the state was that predators could use the privilege to access women’s facilities such as showers, locker rooms and bathrooms, with the intentions of committing crimes.
The Public Facilities Privacy & Security Act was introduced Wednesday morning and sent to the Judiciary IV Committee for approval before returning to the floor for discussions Wednesday afternoon.
Public comments make up majority of committee meeting
Lawmakers heard from the public during the packed committee meeting, which is usually full of lobbyists but played host to LGBT activists and those concerned about safety following the Charlotte ordinance change.
Representatives of advocacy groups on both sides of the issue spoke, but also people representing themselves came forward as well.
Chris Sgro, Executive Director, Equality NC, spoke to the committee saying that other cities have similar ordinances and that what “Charlotte did is not unique or extreme” and that there are not “public safety concerns in these cities that the decades that these ordinances have been in place.”
Sgro also chastised the legislature for the $42,000 a day it tales to run the state Legislature calling it a waste of taxpayer funds.
“(The Charlotte) ordinance is a best practice, what this (General Assembly) stands to do is a worst practice,” he said. “This would be the most sweeping anti-LGBT legislation in the country.”
Tami Fitzgerald, who heads up the NC Values Coalition, spoke at the meeting saying that the ordinance is unconstitutional and that if not stopped other cities would follow.
“Under North Carolina’s Constitution, cities only have those powers explicitly delegated to them by the state,” she said. “Charlotte exceeded its delegated powers by passing an ordinance that jeopardizes both the health and the safety of its citizens. It creates laws that are not uniform across the state, making it harder to do business in Charlotte and other parts of the state.”
Fitzgerald said that, due to Attorney General Roy Cooper’s lack of action to address the ordinance, now the state needs to step in and make changes.
Citizens make their case to the committee
Chloe Jefferson is a high school junior, living in Greenville, who said that she became scared after she found out about the Charlotte ordinance.
“When the Charlotte City Council passed their bathroom ordinance I was immediately fearful,” she said standing in a packed room full of legislators and citizens. “I was fearful because if Charlotte can do something like this, what city will be next? My own?”
Jefferson said that changing in front of her girl peers is already difficult enough without the fear of having to change in front of a boy.
“Girls like me should never be forced to undress or shower in the presence of boys,” she said. “What about my rights to privacy and wishes to not be exposed to males changing and showering beside me.
“Not only is this bathroom ordinance a problem for my privacy but also a problem for my safety. I would no longer feel safe using the bathroom in public places knowing that a man could easily walk into the women’s bathroom with no limitation is completely frightening. Charlotte’s bathroom ordinance allows men complete access to private places reserved for women. With this access there is no stopping what people may do.”
Angela Bridgeman is a transgendered woman living in North Carolina who has undergone gender reassignment surgery and also a business owner.
“I bring money from out of the state, into the state and I am asked to pay taxes to finance the discrimination which I face every day as a transgendered person,” she said. “Now I am post-operative, my birth certificate says female, my license says female, this is not going to affect me, but that’s not what I’m here to talk about today, what I’m here to talk about today is in 1998 I was denied a college education because I am a transgendered person.”
Bridgeman was told that she would need to use the facilities of her biological sex at her university and not that of her chosen gender, prompting her to withdraw from school, especially in light of the murder of Matthew Shepard, a gay student at the University of Wyoming who was killed in 1998.
The motivations behind Shepard’s murder are disputed but his death was widely publicized and eventually lead to gender, sexual orientation, gender identity and disability being added to the protected classes for which hate crime charges can be brought in federal legislation in 2009.
“Five days after Matthew Shepard was killed in Wyoming, I was told by my then college, Sullivan College in Louisville, Kentucky, that I would only be allowed to use male restrooms. What would you all do?”
“I did the only thing I could, I chose my safety. At five days after Matthew Shepard was killed I’m told that I have to put myself in a position where I’m probably going to be beat up or worse. I dropped out of college and I never went back. I was denied a college education just because I’m transgendered. I don’t mean to be insensitive to some people that may have suffered sexual assault and are fearful but I have a right to be safe too. I have a right to be safe too and I have a right to get a college education, which was denied to me. I have a right.”
Elianno Smith, from Charlotte, sent in a letter to be read to committee about Charlotte’s ordinance.
The text of the letter is included here: “I’m going to share something today that I never thought I would share publicly, but I feel it is really necessary due to the direction that our city is going in. I was sexually assaulted as a young girl and in the years that followed I has a real fear of mean hurting me. This fear followed me for a long time. I actually remember when I was searching for colleges and the thought of co-ed dorms making me incredibly nervous. I specifically picked a school where I knew girls would all be on the same floor, because I wanted to make sure my privacy as a woman was protected.
“Thankfully I found healing and peace from the terrible pain that I experienced and I did come to realize that I can be safe again. In recent weeks the thought of what I experienced has come back to my mind as I watched the Charlotte city council vote to allow biological males into women’s bathrooms, locker rooms and showers.
“I had serious concerns and anxiety that I may encounter a man in the bathroom but more than the pain and nervousness I feel because of what’s happened to me in my life I fear even more for my children. I have four young children and I never want any of them to go through the pain, the humiliation and the trauma I suffered for years. How will I be able to go into the bathroom knowing that at any moment a man or someone pretending to be a woman could walk in? I wouldn’t have peace about my little girl showering and changing at the YMCA knowing there very well could be a man in that room.”
Madeleine Gauss, a transgendered woman living in Raleigh, also spoke at the committee meeting saying that she was bullied in her hometown of Hickory and now the state wants her to return to the situation in which that happened.
“I was bullied and tortured and beaten mercilessly there, and where did it happen, it happened in the men’s room, this place is a place of danger for people like me,” she said. “I can’t use the men’s room. I won’t go back to the men’s room. It is unsafe for me there. People like me die there.”