North Carolina lawmakers have called a special session of the state legislature for Wednesday to block a Charlotte anti-discrimination ordinance supported by gay and transgender groups.
The ordinance, which was passed by the Charlotte City Council last month, expands the city’s civil rights statute to include protections on the basis of marital status, sexual orientation and gender identity and expression. It prohibits businesses and city contractors, among others, from discriminating against these and other groups.
Critics, however, have homed in on one effect: It would allow transgender people to use bathrooms and locker rooms that match their preferred gender. The issue has become a sticking point across the country, thwarting several efforts to expand protections for gay and transgender people; last year, Houston voters repealed an ordinance passed by city leaders after critics condemned it as a “bathroom bill” that would give male sexual predators free access to women’s restrooms.
In North Carolina late Monday, Lt. Gov. Dan Forest and House Speaker Tim Moore, both Republicans, announced that they would call for a special session of the state legislature Wednesday to deal with the Charlotte measure.
“We aim to repeal this ordinance before it goes into effect to provide for the privacy and protection of the women and children of our state,” they said in a joint statement.
The decision provoked outrage, in part because of the cost to taxpayers of holding such a special session: $42,000 per day, according to the Charlotte Observer.
Gay rights groups decried the special session, calling it a power grab as well as an extraordinary attempt to uphold discrimination against a vulnerable population.
“Nondiscrimination ordinances strengthen local economies and communities,” Matt McTighe, executive director of the gay rights group Freedom for All Americans, said in a statement Tuesday. “It’s hard to understand why lawmakers are going out of their way to strip protections away from some North Carolinians, while jeopardizing the state’s reputation in the process.”
As of Tuesday afternoon, state lawmakers had not released proposed language for the bill to be considered Wednesday.
This is not the first time a state has tried to overturn a local ordinance aimed at expanding protections for gay and transgender people. Last year, the Arkansas state legislature passed a bill barring local governments from expanding their civil rights protections to any class not protected in the state statute, which does not extend protections on the basis of sexual orientation or gender identity. The measure arose in response to an effort by the city of Fayetteville to enact an anti-discrimination ordinance.
Tennessee in 2011 passed a bill similar to Arkansas. Both measures sparked legal battles because of the clash between state and local laws.