Each One Of Us: Expanding Charlotte’s Non-Discrimination Ordinances

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Photo Credit: wbtv.com

Expanding Charlotte’s Non-Discrimination Ordinances and Maintaining a Community

By Mel Hartsell

For the second time in our city’s history, Charlotte City Council has shown it does not have the courage or the conviction to stand for fairness and equality. More than two decades ago, Council members shamelessly rejected similar public accommodations protections. In repeating that sad legacy on Monday, Council chose to listen to the divisive, prejudiced rhetoric of out-of-town special interests who have been behind recent attacks on the rights of LGBT people across the state and across the country. They have proven they will stop at nothing to malign and discriminate against LGBT citizens and residents.”

This is a portion of the statement  from the Charlotte Non-Discrimination Ordinance Coalition after the vote in March 2015 that would have added protections for LGBTQ people in public accommodations, passenger vehicles for hire, and commercial contracting with the city.  The original vote, two decades ago, was brought to the council in November of 1991.

As a member of this community and a politically active person, I have a lot of passion about this issue. And as we look forward to this vote again, some thoughts have been stirring within me. Not only about the results, but also about our relationships with one another.

The first step to a great outcome, of course, is to have a supportive city council. We have one of those in Charlotte but we weren’t close enough in March 2015 when an amendment was raised to keep trans people out of the bathrooms and locker rooms in which they are most comfortable. Several council members decided to vote for the amended version. Council members Lawana Mayfield and John Autry voted down the amended version, and I am thankful for them, despite the backlash they received from people inside and out of the community.  We are all in this together – and we will not leave members of our LGBTQ family behind. We held an election in November and are even more optimistic about the slate of city council members.

With a positive look at the city council, there are a few tactics that can be used to secure these non-discrimination ordinances in Charlotte and beyond. Though it’s important to remember that each city has its own culture so it is difficult to have controls when studying what has been successful and not.

One tactic is to keep the upcoming vote as quiet as possible. The LGBTQ community backs out as visible leadership and lets the city council and the mayor take the reins. Perhaps a few leaders whisper in the mayor’s ears. The council adds it to the agenda at the last possible moment and votes on it when they’ve secured the vote. This has proven to be unsuccessful in Charlotte. We are a talkative bunch, a small community and word gets out really quickly. We can’t make it to the vote. The opposition finds out, they mobilize, and the LGBTQ community has to rush to catch up.

Another tactic is to be as vocal as possible. This tactic is best used if the other side has found out, well, anything, because they will mobilize. The best strategy is to get your supporters there, wherever they need to be – whether it’s in the chambers the night of the vote, canvassing/phone banking steadily until the vote, holding rallies, or planning educational opportunities.  Charlotte has 90,000 LGBTQ people in the metro area. If even 1% of these folks showed up to events and planning, we would be a force. You, of course, have to know how to mobilize and reach folks that aren’t traditionally the “face” of the movement, though.

The third tactic I’ll mention is to have a few select people and groups do everything. This happens when we are exclusive about who gets a “seat at the table” (a phrase used by people who think they set the table and by those who would like a seat). When you have a community full of people with vested interest, passion, and skills but only pull on a few folks or organizations, you run the risk of over-extending those leaders and not accurately representing our numbers. This strategy also leads to isolating people and creating division where there never needed to be division. The LGBTQ community has a history of doing this since our first attempts at visibility, and has continued to do it, even in Charlotte. Many of us have been guilty of this at different junctures. In the instances of the ordinances, maybe the vote passes, but is our community united and mobilized for the next battle? Or are we stressed and hurting? Will the celebration be enough to carry us forward?

As you may likely see, I have a bias against the third option. I think strategy is so important and can be utilized, even with many voices present. You can even let elected officials quietly take the reins, but boldly excluding people who represent your very issue and who want to be involved is counter-productive to community building.

There are a few events leading up to the actual city council vote and I’m sure they will be interesting and provide an excellent source of conversation.  Until the vote occurs, I hope our community will pursue transparency and unity. We must act like a “community” if we are going to refer to ourselves as one. We must listen to folks who are most impacted by the decisions we make. Let us add leaves to the table until everyone who wants a seat has one. We have all been rejected and outcast by folks outside our community. Maybe we learned from those experiences how to do it, but how can we stand for it? There is space for everyone’s passions and skills. The time for authentic, honest conversations about why people are excluded and how they can be included is now. Before it’s too late and we’ve completely lost our resources and our way.

This is a repost of a blog first published in February 2016 on Mel’s website, www.melhartsell.org. The team members of Visit Gay Charlotte are thrilled to add Mel to the staff as a contributing columnist of the Each One Of Us blog page. Look for future posts by this talented community social worker.


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