By Lisa Keen
North Carolina is a battleground on two fronts these days: Over the state’s recently enacted anti-LGBT law and over the political race for the White House. And at least one of those battles could come to a major turning point this week.
In a strange twist, North Carolina Gov. Pat McCrory on Sept. 16 said he’d call a special session of the state legislature this week to consider repealing HB2, but only if the city of Charlotte first repealed its non-discrimination law. That law prohibits discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity, as well as race, sex and other categories.
According to local news reports, McCrory’s communication office issued this statement on Sept. 16:
“For the last nine months, the governor has consistently said state legislation is only needed if the Charlotte ordinance remains in place. If the Charlotte City Council totally repeals the ordinance and then we can confirm there is support to repeal among the majority of state lawmakers in the House and Senate, the governor will call a special session. It is the governor’s understanding that legislative leaders and the lieutenant governor agree with that assessment.”
Charlotte City Council rejected a proposal in May where the legislature said it would “amend” HB2 in return for Charlotte’s repeal of its non-discrimination law. Charlotte Mayor Jennifer Roberts issued a statement on Sept. 19 that left no impression the Council would consider repealing its ordinance.
“The City of Charlotte continues its commitment to be a welcoming community that honors and respects all people,” said the statement from Roberts. “We appreciate the state wanting to find a solution to the challenges we are facing and applaud the governor for recognizing the state should overturn HB2, which the state can do at any time without any action from the City of Charlotte. We are not prepared to add this item to our agenda this evening, however, we urge the state to take action as soon as possible and encourage continued dialogue with the broader community.”
The statewide LGBT group Equality North Carolina and the national Human Rights Campaign issued statements Friday urging Charlotte to reject the proposal.
“It would require Charlotte to drop the very protections for the LGBTQ community that businesses, the NCAA and other organizations have now made clear are needed and are a priority,” said JoDee Winterhof, an HRC senior vice president.
The ACLU and Lambda Legal also issued statements opposing the idea.
“The reason the NBA, NCAA and countless other groups and companies have refused to do business in North Carolina is because HB2 is an unprecedented and targeted attack on the LGBT community that is inconsistent with American values – not because Charlotte commendably decided to protect LGBT people from discrimination,” said Simone Bell, the Southern Regional Director for Lambda Legal.
Meanwhile, the state is still wincing as major corporations and events pulled out of the state, citing their opposition to HB2. Just this month, both the NCAA and the ACC college athletic organizations announced they would not hold championship tournaments in North Carolina. Those announcements set off a political earthquake in the state which was already reeling from a wave of cancellations from classic to pop concerts, to travel by employees from New York and other states, to more than 60 major corporations filing statements in opposition to HB2 and, in many cases, putting a halt on plans for conferences or to build in the state. Wired magazine estimates the state has already lost almost $400 million because of the law. The NCAA and ACC decisions alone cost North Carolina more than $90 million, says Wired.
Not surprisingly, then, Gov. McCrory is racing to find a way to stop further damage.
Earlier in the month, he asked a federal district court judge to delay the trial challenging HB2 from November until May, noting that the U.S. Supreme Court might take up a similar case from Virginia. Lambda Legal’s national legal director, Jon Davidson, said his group agreed to the delay after the federal court granted a stay of the law as it applies to transgender people at the University of North Carolina.
On Sept. 16, McCrory dropped one of his two counter lawsuits and issued the statement hoping to persuade Charlotte to repeal its law so the state could declare HB2 no longer necessary.
The law, enacted last March, bars any local jurisdiction (not just Charlotte) from passing non-discrimination laws that exceed state law (and state law does not prohibit discrimination based on sexual orientation or gender identity). More notoriously, HB2 also bans transgender people from using any public restroom other than one assigned to a gender that matches their birth certificate.
Add to the economic and legal turmoil, the fact that North Carolina is one of 12 states where pollsters are uncertain how it will vote in the presidential election, and the implications of HB2 become even more dramatic.
Democrat Hillary Clinton has spoken out clearly against the law. Republican Donald Trump has sent mixed signals.
Speaking to a campaign audience in Greensboro, North Carolina on Sept. 15, Clinton said, “I’m running for the LGBT teenager here in North Carolina who sees your governor sign a bill legalizing discrimination and suddenly feels like a second-class citizen.”
In her remarks, at the University of North Carolina-Greensboro, she said she wanted to “make sure every person and, particularly, every child, no matter who they are, what they look like, or who they love, are part of the American dream now and way into the future. Let that be our message. Let that be our mission.” Video of her remarks is available from the Greensboro News & Record.
Trump initially said North Carolina would have “a lot of problems” for passing HB2 and suggested it was unnecessary. “There has been so little trouble” regarding the use of bathrooms, he told the Today Show April 21. But over time, he’s said the issue should be left to the individual states. Asked about it in July, Trump told the News & Observer, “Well, I’m going with the state. The state knows what’s going on. They see what’s happening and, generally speaking, I’m with the state on things like this.
As of Sept. 13, openly gay electoral data guru Nate Silver was predicting North Carolina to be leaning slightly toward Trump, 53 percent to 47 percent. Silver also dramatically downgraded Clinton’s chances of winning the White House – from 70 percent to 60 percent, following her previous weekend’s woes. On Sept. 9, Clinton described some of Trump’s supporters as a “basket of deplorables,” a phrase that the Trump campaign meant Clinton thinks all Americans are deplorable. Two days later, Clinton collapsed outside a 9/11 memorial services and then took three days off to recover from pneumonia.
Analyzing many polls, Silver sees the state has being the fourth most likely to provide the “tipping” point in the Nov. 8 election (behind Florida, Pennsylvania, and Ohio).