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Jun 26, 2014

Charter School Amendment Passes House With Potential Protections for LGBT Students

Raleigh, N.C. – Rep. Marcus Brandon (D-Guilford) today resubmitted a previously tabled amendment to Senate Bill 793, Charter School Modifications earlier proposed by Rep. Susan Fisher (D-Buncombe) barring charter schools from discriminating against students on the basis of "sexual orientation" and "gender identity."

Openly-gay Democrat Marcus Brandon supported Republican Nathan Ramsey's later version of an amendment barring discrimination against charter school students, reminding the House chamber that LGBT people "are still Americans, and entitled to the privileges thereof."

In an effort to answer controversial questions by House Pro Tem "Skip Stam" about the meaning of "sexual orientation" during Tuesday's debate, Rep. Brandon went a step further on Wednesday, defining the term as part of the amendment. Mirroring language used in states like Illinois and Maine, the amendment defined "sexual orientation" as "a person's actual or perceived heterosexuality, bisexuality, homosexuality..."

Brandon, who is North Carolina's only openly-gay legislator, went on to give an impassioned speech in support of protections for LGBT charter school students, saying to fellow lawmakers "everyone has treated me with the utmost respect here...our teachers need to give the [same respect] to our students." He added, "those stars and stripes are for everyone."

Following Rep. Brandon's proposal, Rep. David R. Lewis (R-Harnett) offered his own non-discrimination amendment based on federal classifications ("No person in the United States shall, on the ground of race, color, or national origin, be excluded from participation in, be denied the benefits of, or be subjected to discrimination under any program or activity receiving Federal financial assistance"), but that excluded enumerated categories protecting gay and transgender students. He then moved to table Brandon's amendment. Rep. Brandon's amendment to enumerate protections based on "sexual orientation" and "gender identity" was then tabled with a 64-52 vote.

However, later in the debate on changes to SB 793, Rep. Nathan Ramsey (R-Buncombe) also 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 amendment passed 115-9, with vocal support from both Rep. Brandon and long-time supporter of LGBT rights, Rep. Rick Glazier (D-Cumberland). Rep. Lewis then withdrew his own amendment.

While Ramsey's amendment itself lacked enumerated categories like "sexual orientation" or "gender identity," its protections draw from categories protected under current federal laws, such as the inclusive Violence Against Women Act, which does include explicit classifications for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people. The bill now heads back to the Senate for concurrence.

Equality NC Executive Director Chris Sgro applauded the work of legislators who fought openly for enumerated categories of protection on the basis of "sexual orientation" or "gender identity," but also remained hopeful that the current amendment could bring added protections for gay and transgender youth and beyond.

"While we believe enumerated classes of protections for gay and transgender people as those proffered by Rep. Susan Fisher and Rep. Marcus Brandon this week represent the most successful and accountable forms of legislation, we celebrate the passage of a bipartisan amendment to charter school policies in North Carolina that, applying categories protected under the Constitution or federal law, we believe should ensure that gay and transgender students receive the protections they deserve in taxpayer-funded charter schools.

In addition, we ​interpret​ today's bipartisan solution -- proffered by Rep. Nathan Ramsey and supported by Democrats like Rep. Marcus Brandon ​ and Rep. Rick Glazier​ -- ​to ​provide sufficient ​basis​ to not only amend the state's Opportunity Scholarship Program to make sure taxpayer money is never used to support private schools that discriminate, but also to revisit protections for hardworking gay and transgender North Carolinians in employment, housing and public accommodations."

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