As the Charlotte City Council prepares for a possible vote Monday on repealing its own nondiscrimination ordinance, the Human Rights Campaign has mounted an intense lobbying effort to keep it in place and has accused the Charlotte Chamber of being an “anti-LGBT bully.”
The Washington-based HRC, a gay rights group that helped the city write the language to extend the nondiscrimination ordinance to LGBT people, criticized the chamber for what it called lobbying of council members to support a compromise with Republican leaders in Raleigh.
Under the proposal, the Charlotte City Council would remove the ordinance from its books, even though House Bill 2 nullified almost all of it. In return, the legislature would modify some of HB2, the controversial law that, along with other provisions, requires people in government facilities to use the bathroom that matches their birth certificate.
“Stand up to anti-LGBT bullies in Raleigh and the Chamber AND STAY STRONG FOR LGBT PEOPLE,” an HRC tweet Friday said.
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A spokesman for the HRC on Sunday said the tweet intended to also label the Charlotte Chamber as an “anti-LGBT bully,” not just leaders in Raleigh.
The Charlotte Chamber declined to comment Sunday on the HRC criticism. But in an op-ed posted Sunday, Chamber President Bob Morgan said the City Council “should act to take the first step in a process we hope leads to reforms to HB2 that advance our city and state as places where discrimination is not tolerated – for anyone.” He said the council should take that step in response to “an overture” by the legislature.
The chamber says it opposes discrimination in any form but has not taken a position on HB2, unlike some other business groups in the state, which have asked for a repeal of the state law.
The chamber has previously lobbied city officials to be more conciliatory toward Raleigh leaders in their public statements. But the group upset some in the city when it issued a statement praising Gov. Pat McCrory’s executive order in early April that was an attempt to defuse the controversy over HB2.
The Charlotte City Council is scheduled Monday to discuss the economic impact of HB2. The meeting starts at 5 p.m.
The agenda for the meeting does not say the council is scheduled to take any vote on HB2, or its own nondiscrimination ordinance.
But a faction of council members could ask for – and receive – a vote on a symbolic repeal of the city’s ordinance, which could be the first step toward a compromise with Raleigh.
City Attorney Bob Hagemann said Sunday that “so long as the council’s action is within the subject matter of the agenda item,” a vote could take place.
Some council members support a symbolic repeal. Others, including Mayor Jennifer Roberts, oppose it. Roberts has said that LGBT rights are “non-negotiable.”
Council members believe there are at least six votes in favor of a symbolic repeal: Republicans Ed Driggs and Kenny Smith, and Democrats Greg Phipps, Claire Fallon, Vi Lyles and James Mitchell.
Lyles and Mitchell voted for the ordinance in February, while the others opposed it. Mitchell chairs the city’s economic development committee and is concerned about HB2’s economic impact. In 2015, Lyles supported a compromise ordinance on LGBT rights that wouldn’t have allowed transgender individuals to use the bathroom of their identified gender. Both met with House Speaker Tim Moore earlier this month, with Senate leader Phil Berger on the phone.
Having six votes would allow a repeal to pass.
But Roberts could veto their action, and it would take seven votes to override her decision.
One possible seventh vote is at-large council member Julie Eiselt, who voted for the ordinance in February. She declined to comment about the issue Saturday. Patsy Kinsey, who also voted for the ordinance in February, couldn’t be reached over the weekend.
The HRC sent a letter Friday to Roberts and the seven council members who supported expanding the nondiscrimination ordinance. The letter, urging them not to compromise, says, “This moment in which we find ourselves is quickly defining the type of nation we are destined to be. Today, you are standing on the right side of history.”
Cathryn Oakley of the HRC said her organization believes the chamber is lobbying for the compromise, even though some of the group’s largest members have been adamantly against HB2 and supportive of LGBT rights.
“The rumored efforts come despite the fact that more than 200 business leaders have spoken out for HB2’s repeal, including 13 of the largest members of the Chamber itself,” Oakley said in an email.
She cited companies such as American Airlines and Bank of America – which belong to the chamber – as among those opposed to HB2.
“It’s hard to believe the Chamber has consulted with its own members,” she said.
The HRC has also launched a phone bank in which Charlotte residents are urged to contact their City Council members, and ask them not to repeal the ordinance.
Council member Smith, who opposed expanding the nondiscrimination ordinance, criticized the gay rights group’s latest comments.
“HRC thrives on controversy,” he said. “They use it to exploit fundraising. They have little concern for the community they are impacting.”