Asheville residents packed City Council chambers to voice opposition to House Bill 2 and to urge the city to adopt an uncompromising resolution condemning the law and calling for its repeal. Council members listened closely, sometimes with tears in their eyes, as they heard from transgender people who believe the new law puts them at greater risk of arrest or acts of violence. After over an hour of public comment, City Council unanimously voted to approve a strongly-worded measure modeled on one passed by the town of Carrboro.
Mayor Esther Manheimer introduced the discussion and referenced an Executive Order signed by Governor Pat McCrory shortly before Council’s meeting began. “As of tonight,” said Manheimer, “many cities and towns have also passed resolutions, mostly because they have had their meetings before we had a chance to have our meeting. I anticipate a few more will pass similar resolutions before the Legislature goes back into session on April 25.”
The Governor’s Executive Order, Manheimer continued, did not repeal the bill but restored the ability for people to bring discrimination lawsuits in state courts and added a class to the state personnel act for gender identity and sexual orientation. “But that doesn’t take away any of what House Bill 2 put into effect,” she said.
Councilman Cecil Bothwell, who proposed adapting the Carrboro resolution to replace a much less aggressive proposed Asheville resolution, said HB 2 had brought national attention to the state, and not in a good way. Also, Bothwell noted, “Many parts of this are unconstitutional and it’s entirely wrong, so I’m proud to be doing this tonight.”
Councilman Brian Haynes urged those who have supported the law to consider it “through the lens of love and tolerance” and to reject fear and misinformation about LGBT people.
Of the 16 who spoke, only one expressed support for the law.
Devan Balsam, a transgender man and a single father of three sons, spoke of telling his children that there is now a small chance that he will be arrested for using the “wrong” restroom. “I’m not a monster, I’m a hard-working, law-abiding, God-fearing father of three,” Balsam said. “Please find it in your heart to consider me as a person for sake of my children.”
Tara Darby, a transgender woman, said she has seen an “explosion” of threatening statements directed toward her and other transgender people on social media in the wake of the passage of the law on March 23. To those who say the bathroom aspects of the law are a small part of its effects, Darby responded, “The bathroom part isn’t a tiny little part if we could get hurt or even killed going to the bathroom.”
Attorney Meghan Burke said, “This law will not stand test of time and litigation, which is pending,” and she urged Council to take steps beyond passing a resolution, including adding non-discrimination clauses to city contracts.
Lindsay Furst, who is a teacher in the Buncombe County schools, said enforcing the state law in public schools would require her to violate her first priority, which is protecting her students. “LGBTQ teens are dying from homelessness, overdose, suicide and violence,” she said.
This controversy, said Rev. Jasmine Beach-Ferrara, is part of the long historical arc of the LGBT community. She joined her wife Meghan Burke in calling on the city to take additional steps to extend equal protection to all.
Manheimer closed the public comment session by noting that the only silver lining of the situation with HB 2 is that it provides an opportunity to “reaffirm that we stand together.”
Councilman Keith Young read an email he said he had sent to his Council colleagues soon after hearing the law had passed. “To take this lightly,” read Young, “is to be complacent of a civil rights history that is less than 60 years old. Don’t be afraid to act. We must take heartfelt action in defense of equality.” As the only minority member of Council, he said, he felt especially obligated to condemn a law that “erodes the power of local government and tramples decades of public policy.”
Council unanimously passed its consent agenda, including the resolution calling for the repeal of HB 2.