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Jul 25, 2014

NC Charter School Bill Passes House Without Protections for LGBT Students, Heads to Governor

Raleigh, NC, July 25, 2014 — A version of a North Carolina charter school modification bill, Senate Bill 793, Charter School modifications, passed 62-36 in the N.C. House today without specific protections for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender students. Prior House language that would have kept discrimination protections in line with various federal laws that include the LGBT community was removed from the version approved by the Senate yesterday.

The measure in its current form prevents charter schools from discriminating on the basis of “ethnicity, national origin, gender, or disability.”

It now goes to the governor, who has 10 days to decide whether to sign it, veto it or allow it to become law without his signature.

During today's debate on the bill Rep. Tricia Cotham (D-Mecklenburg) asked her colleagues to oppose any charter school changes excluding gay and transgender students. "I think all children are children of God," said Cotham. "I believe we should not discriminate against any child, or any person."

Rep. Graig Meyer (D-Durham, Orange) followed up, asking why his colleagues would remove the House's bipartisan non-discrimination language, saying "We had a great moment of unanimity…now they are gone." He added, "Our job is to make state law, and our current law does not protect #LGBT students."

Rep. Marcus Brandon (D-Guilford), the General Assembly's only openly-gay member, told his colleagues that the problem facing the bill, like so many others, is that North Carolina currently provides no precedent for protections for LGBT students nor adults. "No matter how much we want to imply it or have it in our heart to protect all students…it is not in the language," said Brandon. "You don't get to pick and choose who the constitution applies to."

Rep. David Lewis (R-Harnett), in an apparent effort to hurry the House to a vote, told his colleagues, "this bill is not the vehicle to enumerate different classes of people."

Lewis' comments prompted Rep. Henry Michaux (D-Durham) to speak out from the floor in a final plea to send the bill back for further review of its current protections, reminding the House of other enumerated categories that were not removed from the bill. "We have to be specific in what we do and what we say," said Michaux. The request was ignored and the bill passed shortly thereafter.

Equality NC's Chris Sgro said he was disappointed in the removal of protections for gay and transgender students, but pledged that his organization would work tirelessly with allies - old and new -- in the General Assembly to fight for protections for all gay and transgender North Carolinians in 2015. "While we decry the efforts of anyone in the General Assembly who would remove protections for North Carolina's vulnerable gay and transgender students, we also appreciate every member of our legislature -- from both sides of the political aisle -- who, during this process, publicly declared their opposition to discrimination in all its forms."

"We're confident that this debate has laid the necessary groundwork to move forward with protections for gay and transgender North Carolinians, from our school houses to our marketplaces to our workplaces. We therefore look forward to working with allies of equality in the next legislative session and turn their words into action to enumerate protections for all so that no North Carolinians will ever be discriminated against because of who they are."

BACKGROUND

After several attempts by Democratic representatives to assert enumerated protections for gay and transgender charter school students, including efforts by Rep. Susan Fisher (D-Buncombe), and Rep. Marcus Brandon (D-Guilford), on June 26, 2014, Rep. Nathan Ramsey (R-Buncombe) asserted a non-discrimination amendment which would bar charter schools from discriminating against any student based on "any category protected under the United States Constitution or federal law." The bipartisan amendment passed 115-0, with vocal support from both Rep. Brandon and long-time supporter of LGBT rights, Rep. Rick Glazier (D-Cumberland).

While Ramsey's amendment itself lacked enumerated categories like "sexual orientation" or "gender identity," its protections drew from categories protected under current federal laws, which do include explicit classifications for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people.

North Carolina's charter school bill drew national attention in June when, during House debate, Rep. Paul “Skip” Stam (R-Wake) took objection to the addition of "sexual orientation" as a protected class for students, comparing it to "pedophila" and "masochism."

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