Policy gives city of Charlotte transgender employees bathroom choice

Policy gives city of Charlotte transgender employees bathroom choice

CHARLOTTE, NC (Steve Harrison/The Charlotte Observer) - City of Charlotte policies prohibit discrimination against transgender employees, which allows them to use the bathroom of their choice on the job. The same goes for job applicants.

But those protections don't always extend to nonemployees using public Government Center bathrooms, highlighting the complexities of the issue.

At Monday night's Charlotte City Council hearing on expanding a nondiscrimination ordinance to include sexual orientation and gender expression and identity, a transgender woman said she was told by a police officer that she couldn't be in the women's bathroom at the Government Center.

The woman, Janice Covington Allison, 67, is a Democratic Party activist and was there for the debate on adding LGBT protections in the ordinance.

Council members voted down the ordinance 6-5. Members had earlier voted to remove a provision that would allow transgender people the ability to use the bathroom in which they felt most comfortable.

With the bathroom flexibility removed, two supporters of the ordinance – John Autry and LaWana Mayfield – voted against it. They wanted protections for all residents.

Policy expanded

Shortly before he left office at the end of 2012, former City Manager Curt Walton expanded the city's internal nondiscrimination policy, which applies to employees and people seeking employment at the city.

The policy was expanded to include new groups of people, including sexual orientation or based on someone's "actual or perceived gender as expressed through dress, appearance or behavior."

That language does not specifically mention bathrooms. But it's similar to the language in the ordinance that failed Monday. The city interpreted that ordinance as giving transgender people the ability to use the bathroom of their choice in places of public accommodation.

City spokeswoman Sandy D'Elousa said for visitors "situations that may arise are addressed on a case-by-case basis. No arrests took place Monday night."

She said she isn't aware of any controversy the city has had with a transgender employee using a restroom.

Monday's complaint

Lisa Metzger, 38, a wife and mother of 11 who lives in Matthews, said she alerted a police officer Monday night that transgender women were using the women's restroom during the City Council meeting.

She even videotaped some of them, which Metzger says she showed police to prompt officers to stop the activity.

Her complaint resulted in Allison being escorted from the women's restroom by a female police officer. However, police did not charge any transgender women for visiting the women's restroom that night.

"I'm not looking to discriminate, but I am looking to differentiate between male and female," said Metzger, who believes Allison should have been arrested.

"It (the restroom) is a private place, a vulnerable place and as a mom, I'm aware of how vulnerable a child can be in a public restroom. … When (Allison) came out of the bathroom, my kids' jaws were on the ground."

Seeking city, county clarity

Autry, who voted against the ordinance because it lacked full protection for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transsexual residents, said he asked City Manager Ron Carlee Wednesday to address the issue of who can and can't use the bathroom in public buildings.

Mecklenburg County also recently added sexual orientation and gender expression to its internal nondiscrimination policy for employees.

But county officials declined to say whether that would give transgender employees the right to use the bathroom of their choice.

County commissioners Chairman Trevor Fuller said he believes the bathroom debate is a "red herring."

"Our policy specifically prohibits discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity," he said. "That's very broad; it is intentionally very broad."

County Attorney Marvin Bethune said he has "no idea" which bathroom a transgender employee should use in a county facility. OBSERVER REPORTERS MARK PRICE AND DAVID PERLMUTT CONTRIBUTED.