In a historic vote last week, Charlotte passed an ordinance that extended protections related to public accommodations to the LGBTQ community. Immediately, Speaker Tim Moore publicly mulled convening a special session to overrule the duly elected members of Charlotte's city council, before Governor McCrory and Senate leader Phil Berger told Moore to cool his jets—they'll get around to it in April, when the short session begins.
The provision of Charlotte's bill that raised Moore's hackles is one that allows transgender people to use the bathroom of their self-identified gender. Opponents argue that these protections could lead to sexual assaults. In an email to legislators last week, Moore claimed that the ordinance "poses a threat to public safety."
That's not even remotely true. Similar laws have passed in about two hundred cities and counties, and they've produced absolutely no data supporting Moore's fearmongering.
In fact, the whole point of these ordinances is to ensure that transgender people can feel safe. Sarah McBride, of the Center for American Progress's LGBT Research and Communications, points to a 2013 study showing that 70 percent of trans people in Washington, D.C., reported experiencing discrimination in public restrooms.
"Charlotte is a trailblazer in this situation," says Shawn Long, Equality NC's director of operations. "But as we've seen with nondiscrimination ordinances in the past, it's something that'll grow and grow. ... It's a matter of people understanding that these protections don't already exist, and that you can be fired for being LGBT, and the vast majority of citizens thinks that's unreasonable."
Chapel Hill-Carrboro City Schools is a trailblazer, too. The school district is in the process of opening single-stall, unisex bathrooms in all middle and high schools and recently changed its policy to allow students to use the bathroom of their identified gender.
But why haven't the state's other major municipalities passed similar nondiscrimination ordinances?
"Honestly?" says a Raleigh Democratic source. "Fear of the General Assembly. Fear of what kind of retribution would come from it. It's incredibly frustrating, if not sometimes understandable."
Durham City Council member Eddie Davis says that, while he's sympathetic to the LGBT community's concerns, he wants to see what the legislature does before acting.
"I think it's important that we take a look at what kind of reaction we might get from the governor and the General Assembly, before Durham jumps out to do something like that," he says.
Chapel Hill Town Council member Donna Bell says there have been conversations among her colleagues about what their response should be, but no decisions have been made. It's not just the legislature's discriminatory attitudes that make her angry, she says—it's also the naked hypocrisy. "I think this legislature has shown, over and over, while they have run on the idea of local rule, they do not actually believe in that."
That's true. But it's also true that right now Charlotte has stuck its next out on behalf of the marginalized—and maybe, before the legislature runs roughshod over the state's trans population, other supposedly progressive cities should step up and show some solidarity. Just a thought.