There’s a simple question on the line in North Carolina: Do LGBT people deserve access to jobs, housing, and basic goods and services? With lawmakers supposedly poised to repeal HB2 on Wednesday, this question has been lost in the political crossfire.
Before this year, the question basically had no answer. Nothing mandated discrimination, but there were likewise no laws on the books to protect LGBT people if they were denied employment, the ability to rent an apartment, or the ability to use a restroom while in a government building.
Back in February, the city of Charlotte decided to change that. They passed an ordinance prohibiting discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity that was identical to protections already found in 19 states and dozens of other cities. Gov. Pat McCrory (R) warned them not to, promising retaliation, but they passed it anyway, because maybe it was just the right thing to do.
The retaliation came when the Republican-controlled legislature forced through HB2, one of the most sweeping pieces of anti-LGBT legislation ever passed. Among other things, the law prohibited cities like Charlotte from extending LGBT protections; most notoriously, it banned transgender people from using bathrooms or other facilities that match their gender identity in schools or government buildings.
As a result, the state has faced a massive economic backlash. That’s because many businesses think discrimination is bad. And it’s not just morally bad; it’s bad for business. Research has repeatedly shown that companies that prioritize diversity make more money. Their employees are happier, more secure in their jobs, more optimistic about advancement, and generally just more productive. Their customers, likewise, appreciate their values, feel more welcome, and are more likely to buy their products or otherwise invest in them. It’s not a hard to see why corporations have repeatedly come to the defense of LGBT people, as they did in Indiana and Arizona in 2015 and 2014, respectively. Equality is good for business.
Charlotte passed a law that prohibited discrimination. The North Carolina GOP then passed a law mandating discrimination. Businesses punished the state for the latter. That’s the story.
But McCrory and state Republican leaders have always told it differently. They avoid taking any responsibility for HB2. Their hands have been tied, they claim, because of Charlotte. They had absolutely no choice — when faced by a law that has existed countless other places, in some cases for many years, with zero consequences — but to pass a completely novel and obviously harmful bill to compensate.
The only outcome they would consider, or so they claimed, was a return to the pre-2016 status quo where there were no protections for LGBT people. As long as Charlotte’s ordinance was on the books, they had to stand by HB2. They had to stand by discrimination.
Every business that protested North Carolina, whether it was by pulling events or moving jobs out or cutting expansions short, did so because of HB2. But the NCGOP never wavered in blaming Charlotte for doing the exact opposite thing that everybody was protesting. They saw it as a causal link: HB2 was only passed because Charlotte’s ordinance required it, so the companies might as well have been protesting Charlotte directly.
Twice before this week, Republicans tried to get the Charlotte City Council to cave on anti-LGBT discrimination. In May, and then again in September, they tried to convince Charlotte to act first and repeal its ordinance in exchange for the promise that HB2 would then be repealed. Both times, Charlotte balked and stood by its LGBT ordinance.
And it’s a good thing they did, because McCrory and House Speaker Tim Moore (R) both openly admitted after the fact they were never going to completely repeal HB2. They were so committed to rejecting transgender people that they were always going to leave the bathroom ban on the books. They were hostage-takers, and they weren’t negotiating in good faith.
But then McCrory lost reelection. Attorney General Roy Cooper (D), who opposed and refused to defend HB2, won. And it was pretty clear that HB2 was a defining reason that he had eked out a victory.
The basic question of whether to protect LGBT people from discrimination hasn’t changed, but politics has taken over. Just days after McCrory and the Republican legislature grabbed as much power as possible to make Cooper’s job harder once he takes office, Cooper decided to nevertheless trust them where the Charlotte City Council never did. He convinced the Council to take the deal, on the promise that the legislature would repeal HB2 “in full.”
It was all a set-up.
McCrory, Moore, and Senate Leader Phil Berger (R) immediately pounced, accusing the Council of acting politically. They said that by waiting until after the election to accept the deal, the Council had proved it was forcing HB2 on to stay on the books just to help McCrory lose — and that their willingness to repeal it now showed they didn’t actually care about protecting LGBT people. It’s unclear whether the Council acted in good faith to put an end to the harms of HB2, whether they really had been unprincipled and politically motivated all along, or whether they just finally succumbed to Stockholm Syndrome. It doesn’t matter, because even if the Republicans had manipulated the entire course of events, it still looked like they had a point: Charlotte’s actions weren’t defensible.
LGBT groups were caught in the political crossfire. Having previously opposed the compromise, the Human Rights Campaign stopped short of admonishing Charlotte for rolling back LGBT protections. Other groups like the National Center for Transgender Equality tried to remain optimistic about a future beyond the HB2 repeal.
— Dominic Holden (@dominicholden) December 20, 2016
But early Wednesday morning, the day of the special session to repeal HB2, the deal was already crumbling, thanks to more political theater from the North Carolina GOP.
At 1 a.m., the NCGOP issued a statement accusing the Charlotte City Council of lying about repealing the LGBT ordinance because they only repealed the provision dealing with access to bathrooms. “The HB2 blood is now stain soaked on their hands and theirs alone,” the statement read.
— Colin Campbell (@RaleighReporter) December 21, 2016
The statement is a clear sign that the NCGOP is opposed to LGBT rights in any capacity. It’s not just about transgender people using bathrooms, as they have often argued. There can be no protections for the LGBT community whatsoever.
Nevertheless, the Charlotte City Council followed through on their dark deal. Wednesday morning, they convened in an emergency session and voted 7–2 on a full repeal of the Non-Discrimination Ordinance.
It is unclear whether this will be enough to satiate the Republican lawmakers who are reticent to repeal HB2. As an example, Lt. Gov. Dan Forest (R) issued a statement Wednesday morning, just before the special session was to convene, saying he opposes repeal. As President of the Senate, he would cast the deciding vote in the event of a tie.
My statement regarding Special Session to repeal HB2 pic.twitter.com/uZkkVui5LT
— Lt. Gov. Dan Forest (@LtGovDanForest) December 21, 2016
Whatever happens on Wednesday, the fight over LGBT protections is not over in Charlotte, nor in the state of North Carolina. But for all the politicking that is sure to follow, that simple question remains: Do LGBT people deserve access to jobs, housing, and basic goods and services?
The NCGOP’s answer is still clearly “no.”