Lawmakers in the city of Charlotte, N.C., the hometown of world-renowned evangelist Rev. Billy Graham, are weighing whether to expand the city's non-discrimination ordinance to include legal rights for transgenders to use public restrooms designated for the opposite sex.
The proposed changes to the town's non-discrimination ordinance will be voted on by the City Council on Feb. 23 and the changes could also add non-discrimination protections for sexual orientation, marital status, familial status, gender identity and gender expression.
Although most of the proposed changes to the ordinance were not critically discussed by the city council, the largest contention in the ordinance came in regards to expanding bathroom rights to transgenders, which essentially allows a biological male to use a female restroom and vice versa. Four council members, including two Democrats, voted against putting the ordinance proposal on the Feb. 23 agenda.
By adding transgender bathroom protections to the ordinance, all places of public accommodation, including privately run businesses like restaurants, stores, hotels, theatres, and doctors offices will be required to allow members of the opposite sex to use the other gender's designated restrooms in their facility.
The city council is seeking public input before it makes a decision on the proposed changes. Opponents of the proposal say that such a measure would put women and children in danger.
"We are adamantly opposed to this because it would subject women and children to be in the same public restroom as men," Tami Fitzgerald, executive director of the social conservative advocacy group North Carolina Values Coalition, told The Christian Post. "We think that this puts women and children in danger and it exceeds the expectation of privacy that they have upon entering a restroom that is in the public sphere."
Republican council member Ed Driggs, who opposes the new ordinance proposal, also feels that it could put children in danger because it could give a "cover" for sexual predators to go in the other gender's restroom and stalk little girls.
"A lot of people worry that you might provide a cover for bad actors," Drigg said at the council meeting on Monday. "This is not directed toward people with legitimate gender identity issues."
Although the other proposed expansions to the ordinance, which include protections based on sexual orientation, were not highly contested by the city council members, Fitzgerald believes expanding nondiscrimination rights to include sexual orientation would force business owner to violate their religious convictions or leave themselves vulnerable to lawsuits.
"This type of ordinance would potentially place someone who believes that sexuality and marriage are defined by biblical principles, it would put those people at risk of having to violate their deeply held religious beliefs in certain cases to abide by this city ordinance," Fitzgerald said. "We all have the right to freely exercise our religious beliefs under the first amendment and also under article 1, section 13 of the North Carolina Constitution."
The North Carolina Values Coalition sent out an email to its members this week asking them to contact their city council members and voice their disapproval over the proposed ordinance expansion.
Fitzgerald also said that the coalition is organizing a protest for Monday (Feb. 23) at 4:30 p.m. outside of the city council's chambers. Fitzgerald stressed that although the proposal only applies to the laws of Charlotte, it can have statewide implications as other cities could consider ordinance changes as well. Fitzgerald added that it is important to "draw a line in the sand at Charlotte."
"The Human Rights Campaign and Equality North Carolina have pledged to take this to every major city in the state of North Carolina," Fitzgerald asserted. "If we can stop them in Charlotte, we will be able to stop them in other cities. People need to realize that this is something that will impact everyone living in their cities."
As over 17 states and 200 cities have implemented gender identity protections, the city of Houston is in the midst of a lawsuit that seeks to put the city's new transgender bathroom ordinance up for voter referendum. In Houston, pastors were instrumental in driving opposition to the ordinance. Much like the pastors in Houston, Fitzgerald says that pastors in Charlotte are actively involved in driving opposition against the city's proposal.
"Pastors are very upset about this, as they were in Houston and San Antonio. They are arming their people to rise up against their city leaders," Fitzgerald said. "If the people who we elect to represent us at the city level are out of step with the majority of people living in their cities, they shouldn't expect to go back to the city council next time they are up for reelection."