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Red Hat, Biogen, NCAA speak out on NC law restricting LGBT protections

Rep. Bishop of Charlotte introduces House Bill 2 in committee

Video: Rep. Dan Bishop of Charlotte, NC, introduces House Bill 2 in committee Wednesday, March 23, 2016. The bill preempts local governments from opening bathrooms for people to use according to how they identify their gender.
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Video: Rep. Dan Bishop of Charlotte, NC, introduces House Bill 2 in committee Wednesday, March 23, 2016. The bill preempts local governments from opening bathrooms for people to use according to how they identify their gender.

Major Triangle employers joined big business across the state and nation in pushing back against a new North Carolina law that invalidates Charlotte’s new legal protection for LGBT individuals.

Red Hat, Bayer and Biogen took to their Twitter accounts to denounce the bill signed into law Wednesday by Gov. Pat McCrory.

Sports organizations said they’re taking the legislation into consideration as they schedule events in the state.

The NCAA, which has men’s basketball tournament games planned in North Carolina in 2017 and 2018, said it is monitoring the situation. And cable network ESPN, which is looking for a new home for its summer X Games, said it embracesdiversity and inclusion and will evaluate all of our options as we seek a new city for the X Games.”

Last week Raleigh hosted the opening rounds of the NCAA basketball tournament, an event that was expected to attract $4 million to $5 million in spending by out-of-town visitors.

In a Twitter post, the NBA said it is “deeply concerned that this discriminatory law runs counter” to its principles and values, but said it did not yet know the impact on its ability to host the NBA All-Star Game in Charlotte next year.

At a time when North Carolina is trying to recruit companies to expand and grow, some business leaders said the new measure will jeopardize employee recruitment and economic development in the state.

Red Hat CEO Jim Whitehurst was one of three executives at the company, which is headquartered in downtown Raleigh, to criticize the bill.

Whitehurst tweeted that his company strongly values diversity, and that House Bill 2 is a “clear step backwards.”

Biogen, one of the largest employers in the Triangle, wrote that it opposed the law’s “attempt to undermine equality in NC ... We support advancing the power of difference.”

The impetus of Wednesday’s special session was a provision in Charlotte’s expanded nondiscrimination ordinance that would allow transgender individuals to use the bathroom that corresponds to the gender with which they identify.

Critics said it was “social engineering” to allow people born as biological males into women’s restrooms. The bill prohibits any such bathroom flexibility, but it also will keep Charlotte and any other municipality from adding new protections for gays, lesbians or transgender individuals.

On Thursday, McCrory spokesman Ricky Diaz said in a statement, “Much of the feedback we’ve gotten from businesses has been positive. They’ve said the Charlotte City Council shouldn’t have passed this ordinance in the first place so we wouldn’t have to deal with it now.”

American Airlines, which operates its second-biggest hub at Charlotte Douglas International Airport, was among big, national and international companies reacting swiftly to the North Carolina legislation. “We believe no individual should be discriminated against because of gender identity or sexual orientation,” American Airlines spokeswoman Katie Cody said in a statement. “Laws that allow such discrimination go against our fundamental belief of equality and are bad for the economies of the states in which they are enacted.”

The airline previously joined other major U.S. companies, including Wells Fargo, Apple and Microsoft, in signing a statement opposed to “anti-LGBT” legislation.

“Corporate leaders are speaking out against bills that could allow individuals and businesses to discriminate against lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender people and other minorities – versions of which are actively being considered in states across the country,” the companies said. “This proposed legislation is bad for business.”

The companies said that equality in the workplace is a priority for fostering talent and innovation and that such state laws can stifle investment and economic growth.

“We have zero tolerance for discrimination,” Bayer posted on its Twitter account. “We say no (to the new law). We continue to support all of our employees & remain on the side of equality.” Bayer’s crop science division is headquartered in RTP.

Apple also reiterated its commitment to nondiscrimination, in a written statement Thursday. “We were disappointed to see Governor McCrory sign this legislation,” it said.

Last week, McCrory appeared at the Charlotte Chamber with executives from PayPal to announce the payments processor’s plans to hire 400 employees at a new operations center in the city. But on Thursday, the San Jose, Calif.-based company said it was “disappointed” by the new North Carolina law.

“PayPal’s commitment to upholding inclusion and the equality of members of the LGBT community is part of our company’s core values,” the company said. “We strongly believe in protecting the rights of LGBT individuals within their communities.”

In a tweet the company said it was “proud to champion LGBTQ equality in N. Carolina and around the world.”

And Karen Cobb, spokeswoman for Mooresville-based Lowe’s, said the home improvement retailer “opposes any measure in any state that would encourage or allow discrimination.”

Last year in Indiana, there was a nationwide uproar over a “Religious Freedom” law that critics said would make it easy for businesses to discriminate against gay and lesbian individuals. Critics of the North Carolina bill said it was perhaps the most “anti-LGBT legislation” in the nation.

The NCAA was one of the first organizations to express concern about the religious freedom law last year in Indiana. The state later amended the law under pressure from business, civic and sports leaders.

A similar controversy is brewing in Georgia, where Walt Disney Co. and its subsidiary movie studio Marvel are threatening to pull their film business from the state over a religious liberty bill.

Economist Lee Badgett, a Winston-Salem native, said corporations tend to tout cultures of nondiscrimination for competitive reasons, and they oppose policies that go against them.

“In a bottom-line sense, businesses are worried about being able to recruit and retain the best employees, and laws like this are things they point to as making that harder,” said Badgett, a professor at the University of Massachusetts Amherst.

Staff writer David Ranii contributed.

VIDEO: State Sen. Buck Newton, a Wilson Republican, speaks at beginning of a committee meeting introducing House Bill 2 which would prevent local governments from passing nondiscrimination ordinances and opening bathrooms for people to use based o

Katherine Peralta: 704-358-5079, @katieperalta

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