Faced with Bathroom Bill Deal, Charlotte Mayor Won’t Budge
Jennifer Roberts, the mayor of Charlotte, N.C., and her city council refused to blink on Sept. 19. They refused to even debate an offer from Senate Majority Leader Phil Berger and House Speaker Tim Moore.
The Republicans said they would put a repeal of HB2, the infamous Bathroom Bill, on the legislature’s table, but only if the city of Charlotte would withdraw its LGBT civil rights ordinance.
Roberts said that wasn't even worth discussing.
The offer came less than a week after it was announced that all seven NCAA championship events scheduled to be held in North Carolina during the 2016-2017 academic year were being pulled out of the state because of HB2.
“Fairness is about more than the opportunity to participate in college sports, or even compete for championships,” said Mark Emmert, NCAA president. “We believe in providing a safe and respectful environment at our events and are committed to providing the best experience possible for college athletes, fans and everyone taking part in our championships.”
House Bill 2 is the so-called bathroom bill that has been holding North Carolina’s convention and tourist business and commercial expansion in the state hostage since it was approved March 23.
It was meant to negate Charlotte’s civil rights ordinance that was passed earlier in the year, which extended protection to gay and transgendered people.
But the Public Facilities Privacy and Security Act, also known as the Charlotte Bathroom Bill, or more succinctly, HB2, was also, in the words of the national office of the ACLU, “the most extreme anti-LGBT measure in the country.”
HB2 was specifically intended to prevent people from using a bathroom or locker room that corresponds with their gender choice, rather than the sex assigned at birth, unless that person has had the surgery — medical or legal — that it takes to change the gender on a birth certificate.
The blowback was immediate and expensive.
The NBA and the NCAA have pulled marquee sporting events out of North Carolina because of HB2. Other businesses have canceled plans to move to North Carolina or expand facilities in the state, and some performers scratched cities in the state off their concert schedules.
Wired added together all of the lost business and state attorney’s fees to defend North Carolina against at least five lawsuits and came up with a grand total of just over $395 million in HB2-related impact to the state’s economy.
“It obviously a loss for our grand basketball tradition,” Chris Sgro, executive director of LGBTQ rights organization Equality North Carolina and a member of the state’s General Assembly, told Wired. “In many of our cities, we’ll have a sporting event drought for years to come if we don’t repeal HB2.”
Legislative leaders cried “uncle” Sept. 17. However, they didn’t tap out as any bloodied MMA wrestler would do to save himself.
“The legislature and governor did not create this controversy: the mayor and City Council of Charlotte did,” Speaker Moore said in a statement Sept. 17. “If the Charlotte City Council and mayor fully and unconditionally repeal their ordinance then I believe we may have something to discuss.”
But Moore added he couldn’t promise anything.
“As for the House of Representatives, any specifics to be done would be subject to discussions and a decision of the caucus,” Moore said. “I applaud the governor in his continued efforts to promote the economic growth of our state while ensuring basic privacy and safety protections of citizens in bathrooms, showers, and changing facilities.”
A day later, Berger and Moore issued a joint statement that put their offer -- and laid blame -- even more bluntly.
“If the Charlotte City Council had not passed its ordinance in the first place, the North Carolina General Assembly would not have called itself back into session to pass HB2 in response,” Moore and Berger said.
“Consequently, although our respective caucuses have not met or taken an official position, we believe that if the Charlotte City Council rescinds its ordinance, there would be support in our caucuses to return state law to where it was pre-HB2.”
Mayor Roberts issued a statement the next day saying the city council would not be considering repealing its gay rights ordinance at Monday’s meeting.
“The City of Charlotte continues its commitment to be a welcoming community that honors and respects all people,” Roberts said in a statement. “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,” Roberts added. “However, we urge the state to take action as soon as possible and encourage continued dialogue with the broader community.”
Even though Roberts made it clear the LGBT civil rights ordinance wouldn’t even be discussed, WBTV reported dozens of people attended the meeting to show their support for her stand.
“We are silencing marginalized communities, and none of us are free until all of us are free,” Hannah Hawkins said.
Attorney General Roy Cooper (D), who is running against Gov. Pat McCrory in the November gubernatorial election, called for a special legislative session to repeal HB2.
“The damage to our economy must be stopped, and it is clear that full repeal of HB2 will accomplish this,” Cooper said in a statement.
Gov. McCrory has blamed the economic sting of the HB2 backlash on politics.
“This is not about politics. This is not about who’s right and who’s wrong,” Vinay Patel, CEO of SREE Hotels and a board member of the North Carolina Restaurant & Lodging Association, told the Charlotte Observer. “We’ve been caught in a crossfire. … We’re in a crisis, and this is the time to take action.”
North Carolina has certainly paid a price for HB2. The 2017 NBA All-Star Game was scheduled to be played in that city until NBA Commissioner Adam Silver declared there would be a change of venue because of HB2.
“Left-wing special interest groups have no moral authority to try and intimidate the large majority of American parents who agree in common-sense bathroom and shower privacy for our children,” McCrory said in a July statement reacting to the NBA decision. “American families should be on notice that the selective corporate elite are imposing their political will on communities in which they do business, thus bypassing the democratic and legal process.”
Charlotte Councilwoman Claire Fallon told WBTV she is frustrated.
“I wish we had statesman instead of politicians and did what was best for this city, which is bleeding, alright?” Fallon said. “It’s bleeding business, it’s bleeding jobs.”