- Associated Press - Thursday, March 17, 2016

RALEIGH, N.C. (AP) - State lawmakers were urged Thursday to leave intact a new non-discrimination ordinance in North Carolina’s largest city that says transgender people can use the restroom aligned with their gender identity.

Republican House Speaker Tim Moore and Senate leader Phil Berger have railed against the ordinance passed last month by the Charlotte City Council and takes effect April 1 and wants it stopped - either in full or in part. A special session is possible to address the law before the next regular meeting of the General Assembly in late April. Legislators have ultimate authorities over North Carolina cities and counties.

Supporters of the ordinance held a news conference outside the Legislative Building to voice their support.

“Transgender and gay people deserve to be protected from discrimination,” said Chris Sgro, executive director of Equality North Carolina.

Legislative leaders have cited safety concerns, in particular that sexual predators could use the ordinance as a pretense to enter a women’s bathroom. People who oppose the ordinance and want state government leaders to overturn it scheduled a news conference Friday in Charlotte.

But Sgro said Moore and Berger are using unwarranted fears and suspicions to build support for canceling the provision and to win political points. “It’s not too late to pull politics out of the equation and do the right thing to concentrate on real issues and not perpetuate harmful stereotypes and misinformation for personal gain,” he said.

The ordinance is otherwise designed to prohibit discrimination based on sexual orientation, gender identity and gender expression at hotels, restaurants and other public accommodations.

Members of the transgender community often are afraid to walk into a bathroom that matches the person’s gender identity, said Erica Lachowitz of Charlotte, who was born male but identifies as female. Lachowitz said she’s experienced discrimination at restaurants, and the ordinance “sends a message to everyone that we matter.”

“We’re not out there to cause ripples, we just want to feel safe,” Lachowitz added.

GOP Gov. Pat McCrory also has said he’d support a statewide law that would bar local governments from passing similar restroom provisions.

He said the ordinance in his hometown oversteps privacy expectations of the general public. Sgro asked McCrory to veto any anti-ordinance legislation.

Three-fifths of the members of both chambers would have to ask for a special session. Moore, who has said enough of his House colleagues want a special session to exceed that threshold, didn’t respond to a request to his office Thursday seeking comment on the news conference.

A response from Berger’s office called the news conference speakers part of the “political correctness mob” that wants the ordinance that allows “men to share public bathrooms and locker rooms with young girls and women to go into effect.”

Berger focused his scorn upon Democratic Attorney General Roy Cooper, who earlier said he saw no need for the legislature to overturn the provision. Cooper, who is running against McCrory for governor this fall, said prosecutors can still charge people who violate criminal laws, which pre-empt local ordinances. Some Republican senators argue the entire ordinance is unconstitutional.

More than 200 cities nationwide have passed similar non-discrimination ordinances that cover transgender people.

Charlotte council member John Autry, who voted for last month’s ordinance, said the ordinance also will show businesses interested in expanding in the city that all of their workers are “going to be protected, as welcomed, in Charlotte.”

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