As the battle between Charlotte and the General Assembly over transgender rights has raged over the past few months, neither side has seemed very interested in ceding any ground on an issue that’s sure to shape the next election. That all changed last week, however, when the Charlotte Chamber of Commerce publicly encouraged the city council repeal its nondiscrimination ordinance as an olive branch to the General Assembly.
On Friday, The Charlotte Observer reported that council members could rescind the ordinance passed in February under the guise of “cleaning up of ordinances that have no power.” The Human Rights Campaign immediately went on defense ahead of Monday’s council meeting, starting a Twitter campaign encouraging the council to “stand up to bullies in Raleigh. Stay strong for LGBT people. You’re on the right side of history.”
Then, on Sunday, Charlotte Chamber CEO Bob Morgan penned an op-ed in the Observer, saying, “The ask by the legislature that Charlotte act first carries with it an overture to begin rebuilding trust. To reject that overture likely only further impairs a relationship that needs repair.”
At no point did Morgan spell out what he meant, but it was clear: throw trans people under the bus (or out of the bathroom), and maybe the legislature will play nice.
This, of course, would have been a fool’s errand; the discrimination that drove business and events out of North Carolina in the first place would remain perfectly intact. And the damage would persist. “Clearly,” Wake County commissioner John Burns told the INDY, “nobody is canceling in Raleigh because Charlotte passed an ordinance.”
The HRC and the Charlotte Chamber engaged in a war of words, with HRC president Chad Griffin calling the Chamber and state leaders “anti-LGBT bullies” and questioning “who [Morgan] represents.” In response, Morgan released a statement saying, “Others may disagree with our approach, but we take great offense at the suggestion that we support discrimination of any sort.” Charlotte mayor Jennifer Roberts weighed in as well: “We cannot compromise on basic human rights. Any repeal of LGBT protections is bad for business, bad for Charlotte’s future.”
Representative Chris Sgro, D-Greensboro, the executive director of Equality NC, told the INDY on Monday that no one had seen the legislation the Chamber was drawing up. “It’s a red herring,” Sgro said, calling the Chamber a “conduit for [Senate leader Phil] Berger and [House Speaker Tim] Moore’s will.”
In the end, the Chamber’s efforts failed: on Monday night, the council voted 7–4 to affirm its nondiscrimination ordinance.
“The economic loss that the state has suffered, the risk of losing federal funding, and the sullied reputation of our state is solely because of HB 2,” Sgro says. “[Charlotte’s] ordinance isn’t the problem. HB 2 is the problem.”