In 2012, the Charlotte, North Carolina-based LGBT support group Time Out Youth reported a huge spike in the amount of emergency housing it was providing to LGBT young people. Monday night, the city demonstrated why so many LGBT young people might be experiencing rejection in their homes and schools. After a heated hearing with nearly four hours of testimony, the city council voted 5–6 to defeat an ordinance that would have protected LGBT people from discrimination in public accommodations.
A majority of those who spoke during the hearing were opponents of the bill. In particular, they emphasized concern that allowing transgender people to use the restroom that matches their gender would somehow put women and children at risk. Before the final vote, the council passed an amendment that would have created an exemption for facilities like bathrooms and locker rooms, mirroring a similar exemption included in an ordinance recently passed in Plano, Texas. Though the amendment attracted a few of the bill’s prior detractors, two councilmembers, LaWana Mayfield and John Autry, refused to support a bill that wasn’t fully inclusive.
Despite its resonance at the meeting, the claim that transgender nondiscrimination protections somehow make bathrooms unsafe is “beyond specious,” according to experts across the country in states where the protections already exist. Some of these states, in addition to many large cities, have had “gender identity” protections on the books for years — some more than a decade — but none have resulted in increases in sexual assault.
If anything, the need for transgender protections in public spaces like bathrooms was on grand display in the Charlotte-Mecklenburg Government Center during the hearing. Anti-LGBT activists confronted several transgender individuals about which bathroom they used. Notably, street preacher Flip Benham (father of the house-flipping conservative darlings David and Jason Benham — “The Benham Brothers”), reportedly accosted a 17-year-old transgender girl as she came out of the women’s room, calling her a “young man,” a “punk,” and a “pervert.” One of Benham’s fellow anti-LGBT activists, Ante Pavkovic, took a video of the encounter, but Benham told LGBT outlet qnotes that he’d be sending it to FOX News’ Sean Hannity.
At least one other transgender person, activist Janice Covington Allison, confirmed to qnotes that she was confronted by anti-LGBT activists in a similar fashion. Toward the end of the hearing, a transgender woman who identified herself as Coco collapsed after speaking. Benham reportedly laughed and joked about her gender as she lay on the floor needing medical attention.
Both Flip Benham and his son David actively supported the “#DontDoItCharlotte” campaign against the ordinance. That group claimed that the ordinance “puts children and women in danger and violates their sense of privacy and security.” It would allow “a member of the opposite sex to view a person while engaging in activities such as undressing, using restrooms, or showering,” a form letter on the group’s site read. Opponents also argued that it would burden “religious freedom” because business owners would not be allowed to use their religious beliefs to justify refusing service to LGBT customers.
In 2012, LGBT activists urged the Democratic National Convention not to hold its convention in Charlotte because North Carolina had just passed a constitutional amendment banning same-sex marriage and because of Charlotte’s history of LGBT exclusion. Though federal courts have brought marriage equality to the state, not much else has changed in Charlotte over the past three years.