The Charlotte, N.C., City Council voted 7-4 Monday night to add sexual orientation and gender identity to its antidiscrimination ordinance, a year after a similar measure failed.
But the state legislature, which has the power to overrule municipal decisions, is likely to take action against this one, The Charlotte Observer reports.
The ordinance applies to places of public accommodation -- shops, restaurants, taxis -- but not to employment, and its most controversial section would allow transgender people to use the restrooms matching their gender identity rather than the gender they were assigned at birth. Gov. Pat McCrory had said inclusion of this provision would likely prompt "immediate" action by legislators.
That provision sparked impassioned debate at Monday night's meeting, with some Charlotte residents saying it would enable predatory behavior by men pretending to be women to gain access to women's restrooms -- a scenario that has not played out in any city with a similar ordinance.
"I'm not scared of transgenders, but sexual predators will see this as a chance for fresh victims," said resident Pam Burton, according to the Observer. "If one child becomes a victim through this, shame on all of you." Another woman at the meeting even said the city would end up putting litter boxes in restrooms for people who are "trans-species."
Franklin Graham, head of the North Carolina-based Billy Graham Evangelistic Association, had urged Charlotte citizens to work against the ordinance, which he called "wicked" and "filthy," the Observer reports.
But others at the meeting testified that it's transgender people who face dangers if they have to use the restroom designated for their birth gender. "Being assigned male at birth, it can be dangerous if I walk into the men's bathroom -- I'm told I am in the wrong one or 'outed' as transgender," trans woman Lara Nazario told the council, according to local TV station WCNC. "This often leads to violence."
Juli Ghazi, who owns a pizza restaurant in Charlotte, said her establishment already has such a restroom policy in place, and there have been no negative consequences, the station reports. "There hasn't been any gay or straight sex in the bathroom," Ghazi said. "No transgender person has exposed himself to children, a gay person hasn't hit on a straight person, and a gay person hasn't harassed a straight person."
About 140 people addressed the council over the course of the meeting, which lasted three hours. Supporters of the ordinance carried signs reading "Facts Not Fear," while opponents' signs read "Don't Do It Charlotte."
A change in the makeup of the council helped the ordinance pass after last year's failure, the Observer reports, as two new members supported it. Charlotte, the largest city in North Carolina, becomes the first in the state with such a law, according to the paper.
The state legislature, however, could change that. "Legislators could strike down the entire ordinance, or they could eliminate the provision that allows for bathroom flexibility," the Observer notes. "They also could send the issue for voters to decide in a referendum."
When Houston's LGBT-inclusive civil rights ordinance went to a referendum last year, voters repealed it, after a campaign by opponents that focused on fearmongering concerning restrooms.
Some council members said that even if passage of the ordinance provokes state action, it's important to take a stand against discrimination. "Are we a city that panders to fear and hate to those who wish to perpetuate fear and injustice?" council member Al Austin asked, according to the Observer. "I say to you, 'Not on my watch.'"
Watch the Observer's video of some of the testimony below.