A bathroom sign welcomes both genders at the Cacao Cinnamon coffee shop in Durham, North Carolina, United States on May 3, 2016. REUTERS/Jonathan Drake
Glenn H. Burkins
Glenn H. Burkins

It looked dicey for a minute, but Charlotte’s City Council got it right Monday evening. By voting 7-4 to stand pat against calls to repeal its own nondiscrimination ordinance, the council affirmed, at least for now, that some things in America should not be up for compromise – chief among them, basic human dignity.

In reality, the Democrats who make up the council’s majority had little choice, not if they hoped to retain a modicum of respect in a progressive city that is racially diverse and politically liberal.

It is all but certain that Monday’s vote will scuttle a possible deal with the Republican-led General Assembly over House Bill 2, but that’s OK; this was never a fight our city went looking to start.

In passing the nondiscrimination ordinance back in February, Charlotte did what countless other cities have done – extend certain legal protections to gays, lesbians and transgender people. More specifically (and most controversially), the ordinance gave transgender individuals the right to use public restrooms that match their gender identity.

For the reactionary Republicans who control state government, this could never stand. With no meaningful debate and little forethought, they rushed to nullify Charlotte’s ordinance with the passage of HB2, an embarrassment of a law that has backfired in all of our faces, costing our city and state badly needed jobs as a growing number of employers and entertainers effectively boycott North Carolina. Now some of those same Republicans who hastily passed HB2 are asking Charlotte to repeal its ordinance (which the GOP had already killed) on the vague hope that Republican lawmakers, in turn, might vote to amend the obvious blunder we call HB2.

No deal.

Not today. Not tomorrow. Not ever.

Not when it comes to basic civil rights.

In the 1950s and 1960s, when Blacks were demanding our own rights and legal protections, those who wanted to slow the pace of racial progress were constantly saying “Not now.” They sought to halt marches and protests with promises of vague actions at some later date. We are all better off today because our Black leaders of Yesterday refused to cut such deals.

Likewise, North Carolina (and Charlotte) will be better off tomorrow because the Democratic majority on Charlotte’s City Council refused to compromise on a basic tenet of American values.

Civil rights must never become a bargaining chip in America. If council members who voted to pass the Charlotte ordinance believed in their souls that it was the moral thing to do, then how could they now do an about-face and vote repeal that same moral act?

On some level, I understand fully the concerns of those distressed by the rapid pace of social change, especially as it relates to bathroom privacy. But the gentle winds of history are at the backs of those who embrace measured progress, especially progress that extends the blessings of our democracy to those long been denied consideration. No one will be debating the rightness of Charlotte’s ordinance in the decades ahead, just as no one is now debating the wrongness of once using racial bigotry to justify separate toilets and drinking fountains.

As for HB2, let those who passed it figure out a face-saving way forward. Or better yet, let the courts decide.

On this issue, Charlotte must stand pat.

Glenn H. Burkins is editor and publisher of Qcitymetro. Email editor@qcity2021.flywheelstaging.com.

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Founder and publisher of Qcitymetro, Glenn has worked at newspapers including the Los Angeles Times, St. Petersburg (Fla.) Times, Philadelphia Inquirer, Wall Street Journal and The Charlotte Observer.