When the Democratic National Committee announced earlier this year that it had selected Charlotte, North Carolina, to host the party's 2012 convention, some observers rushed to accuse the Democrats of putting political considerations above equality. Unlike other finalists, including Cleveland, Minneapolis, and St. Louis, the Queen City lacks basic protections for its LGBT employees, such a law against discrimination based on both sexual orientation and gender identity.
“Most of us felt very proud that Charlotte won the DNC,” said Matt Comer, editor of QNotes, an LGBT publication serving the Carolinas. “But there was some concern that we did not want Charlotte to be embarrassed when the convention actually came here.”
Seizing the opportunity, an ad hoc working group of local activists has devised plans to get the Charlotte City Council to pass a slate of LGBT legislation before the convention arrives next September with at least 30,000 delegates and an international media spotlight. The proposals include domestic-partner benefits and an inclusive nondiscrimination ordinance for city employees, in addition to the requirement that companies contracting with the city have nondiscrimination policies.
“We did not want the DNC for the first time in a decade to come to a city that was not officially LGBT-inclusive,” says Comer, a member of the small, informal group of activists pushing the matter. “It’s an opportunity for LGBT community members to take inspiration from the DNC and use it as a starting point to have these conversations with local elected leaders that have not happened enough and to push them on these issues.” In the coming months, the group plans to poll Charlotte voters, with the anticipated result that majorities will support its proposals, based on current trends. The precise timing of subsequent steps will hinge on the outcome of races for the Democratic-controlled City Council, which could even receive its first openly LGBT member this fall.
“The whole idea is to have them all enacted before the convention gets here,” says Scott Bishop, a member of the working group and board member for the Human Rights Campaign. “I think the DNC being here sheds light on the fact that we don’t have a lot of these things. It’s long past due.”
As the largest city in the Carolinas, Charlotte stands out for its lack of basic LGBT rights legislation. Activists attribute the situation to the historic absence of a strong local advocacy group, but with an ally in Mayor Anthony Foxx, the first Democrat to hold the post in two decades, and the outpouring of activity against a pending state constitutional amendment to ban same-sex marriages and civil unions, they hope to energize the effort.
“We've always had the reputation of being a conservative banking town, but below the surface is a city that is dynamic and progressive,” says Comer. “That’s what we want the world to see in 2012.”