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Asheville OK with Charlotte Bathroom Bill

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By Leslee Kulba-  “Charlotte the harlot, peddling perversion!” shouted one of about 150 people who showed up to speak either for or against what has become known as the Charlotte bathroom bill. The Charlotte ordinance, an expansion of the Queen City’s non-discrimination ordinance, would allow people to use whichever public restroom or locker room they “identify with.” It was passed February 22 by a 7-4 vote, with Councilmen Ed Driggs, Claire Fallon, Greg Phipps, and Kenny Smith voting against.

Also speaking out in opposition was the high-profile Reverend Franklin Graham. He used choice words like, “wicked” and “filthy” in his censure.

Governor Pat McCrory got into the fray as well, arguing the safety risks exposed the Charlotte City Council to legal risk. In a letter to city council, he wrote, “This action of allowing a person with male anatomy, for example, to use a female restroom or locker room will most likely cause immediate state legislative intervention, which I would support as governor.”

A copy of the ordinance was not available online, so Phipps relayed a request to City Attorney Bob Hagemann on behalf of the Tribune. Hagemann emailed the pertinent documents and followed up with two phone calls to clearly differentiate between substance and hype.

He went through the history. The city’s public accommodations ordinance was amended in 1968 in order to outlaw discrimination on the basis of “race, color, religion, or national origin.” It put an end to white and black bathrooms and drinking fountains. In 1972, “sex” was added to the list of protected classes. But then a separate section was added exempting, “(1) Restrooms, shower rooms, bathhouses and similar facilities which are in their nature distinctly private, (2) YMCA, YWCA and similar types of dormitory lodging facilities, and (3) A private club or other establishment not, in fact, open to the public.”

Hagemann said the reason for the exempting statement was lost to history, having been added with a deluge of other changes. But Henry Underhill, who served as city attorney back then, speculated the language was likely boilerplate added to documents nationwide, at Phyllis Schlafly’s instigation, out of fears that the National Equal Rights Amendment would do what Charlotte City Council had just done.

Monday’s amendment struck out the exemption statement and added to the list of protected classes, “marital status, familial status, sexual orientation, gender identity, and gender expression.” Hagemann indicated the press had been misled by people trying to make it a political issue. He said it does not require businesses to provide transgender restrooms. It merely requires establishments with public facilities to allow persons identifying differently from their anatomy to use the restroom of their choice.

In response to an under-the-breath comment that the absence of a test for the bona fides of a customer claiming a gender-bender would lead to voyeurism and worse abuse by perverts, Hagemann chimed in, “which has been known to happen.”

But not everybody was opposed to the ordinance. At 6:01 p.m. Thursday, right after critic Pete Kaliner’s afternoon drive show ended on News Radio 570 WWNC, the City of Asheville issued the following for immediate release.

“Asheville Mayor Esther Manheimer issued this statement today, following numerous media inquiries after Charlotte City Council on Monday approved new legal protections for gay, lesbian and transgender residents:

“’The City of Asheville values diversity and equality. At the last Council meeting, Asheville City Council adopted a vision that reinforces these core values. Asheville City Council has taken bold steps to pass non-discrimination employment policies and extended benefits to domestic partners. Asheville is an open and welcoming community, which provides a safe environment for our diverse citizenry.’”

Charlotte’s ordinance is scheduled to go into effect on April Fool’s Day, but the legislature is not scheduled to meet again, and thus be able to take action, until about three weeks later.

In Other Matters –

Council held a speedy meeting February 23. The only item scheduled looked like filler to justify holding a meeting to pass something on the consent agenda. It was a presentation in the vaguest terms about what council might want to do about infill development, nothing novel, nothing binding.

Passing silently on the consent agenda were a number of waterworks projects, road closings, etc. Council also approved its 2036 Council Vision. The document is supposed to provide a guide for future decisions of the body. It is only three pages long, and for the most part reads like it could have been compiled on atrixnet.com/bs-generator.html.

In its list of “what makes us special” are statements like, “We define diversity broadly, including but not limited to all races, ages, sexual orientations, gender identification, socio-economic backgrounds, and cultural beliefs.” council foresees a place where everybody has access to living wage jobs, and, viewing the community through a “racial equity lens,” the city supports minority businesses. [ED NOTE: One can only look forward to the day one does not have to define equality in terms of differences].

As for the environment, “Asheville continues to be a leader in innovative technologies and conservation efforts in response to global climate change,” reads the document. The city will be powered by “locally-generated, clean sources of energy,” and, “streets, greenways, and parks will embody an urban forest,” with gardening, farming, and orchards throughout the commercial center. The community will be well-planned and green with mixed-use, mixed-income development. [ED NOTE: First, the concept of a well-planned community probably doesn’t sound so threatening when one is not on the receiving end. Secondly, what is to stop wind and solar farms from running into the same obstructionism any change potentially affecting property values does in this town?]

Council plans to have a “locally-focused economy” while forging public/private partnerships. It will be characterized by “plentiful educational options, workforce development, access to capital, economic incentives, and a culture that values homegrown business. The city also plans to attract even more breweries. [ED NOTE: Free trade might be a more direct way to prosperity.]

Pulled from the consent agenda for public airing was receipt of a donation from the Asheville Parks and Greenways Foundation and Friends of Connect Buncombe in the amount of $37,000. Funds would go toward a feasibility study for a greenway in East Asheville.

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