LaWana Mayfield Gives Visibility to the Overlooked
On February 22nd, 2016 the Charlotte City Council passed an anti-discrimination bill. The bill updated existing legislation to ban discrimination on the basis of familial status, sexual orientation, gender expression, and gender identity. That ordinance, and indeed all local anti-discrimination legislation across the state was struck down by the Republican held General Assembly and Governor Pat McCrory in a special session last week. Much of the political focus was on a provision of Charlotte's ordinance that allowed trans* individuals to use the restrooms, locker rooms, and changing facilities that aligned with their gender identity. This April, we take a closer look at the situation in North Carolina, and the efforts of Charlotte City Council Member and DMO of the Month LaWana Mayfield. In a city known for DMO leaders like Council Members Patsy Kinsey and James Mitchell, we highlight LaWana Mayfield's enduring commitment to representation in the face of Republican opposition.
The LGBT community has made significant gains in recent years with the end of Don't Ask, Don't Tell, the Obergefell ruling legalizing same-sex marriage, and growing public acceptance of non-straight relationships. However this community is not a monolith, and the T part of LGBT has not benefited from the same degree of social progress as the cisgendered members of their acronym. One person who has not overlooked their hardships is Councilmember Mayfield. She voted down a previous version of the anti-discrimination bill that did not provide access for trans* individuals to use the facilities corresponding to their identity. This accommodation means that a transwoman would not have to endure the discomfort and physical threat of changing in a men’s locker room, and that a transman would not draw the ire of women by being legally forced to use their restroom. Governor McCrory and other opponents who fear that the law will allow men to access women’s private rooms ignore that the Charlotte law allows businesses to contact the police if they believe a patron is attempting to use the incorrect facility. Far from trans* individuals posing a threat to the general public, Councilmember Mayfield crafted the law with everyone's safety in mind.
As with other myths born of ignorance, exposure to people who are living the reality is the best education. Mayfield played that role for the Charlotte City Council, serving as its first gay councilmember. She recounted a story of one of her colleagues on the Council who had gotten to know her and her partner, saying that “to vote against domestic partner benefits...they felt like that would be a vote directly against us.” The importance of Councilmember Mayfield as an out, African American woman in government is not to be underestimated. Someone who found no one like her to look up to now serves as a role model for others.
Councilmember Mayfield stands out not just as a trailblazer, but as a local official who gets the job done. She coordinated the district’s first Airport Job Fair, and advocated for Charlotte to pass its Ban the Box ordinance, which enables former inmates to earn an honest living. Mayfield also fought to keep the local Goodwill in her district, and led talks to expand the building into a Goodwill Opportunity Campus. While she recognizes the need for economic stimulus, Mayfield doesn’t sacrifice her neighborhood in the name of growth. Community discussions on gentrification and efforts to keep property values stable go hand in hand with her development initiatives. She also wants to ensure that historical sites don’t get thoughtlessly demolished to make way for newer structures. In her service to the 3rd District, Councilmember Mayfield is a tireless public servant who goes the extra mile to advocate for all of her constituents.
Voters expect their local elected officials to put aside partisanship and politicking and make things happen. This ethic adds insult to injury when state legislators reverse years of hard work in less than a day, as we saw recently with Charlotte and other cities across North Carolina. State officials forget that national issues play out at the local level, and that voters have given their mayors and council members a mandate to find the practical outcome for big questions. The overwhelming backlash against North Carolina for denying LGBT minorities their rights shows a clear support for the work of LaWana Mayfield and her colleagues on the Charlotte City Council. In a state whose legislators have not yet moved past their bigotry, Mayfield lends her career to those who rarely receive adequate representation in government. We are proud to stand with her, Charlotte, and the citizens of North Carolina in naming her our DMO of the Month this April.
Let North Carolina know that you #standwithcharlotte.