Durham News: Opinion

How to begin to repair the damage HB2 has done to North Carolina

Chris Fitzsimon
Chris Fitzsimon

It has now been two and a half months since Gov. Pat McCrory signed HB2, the sweeping anti-LGBT law passed by the General Assembly that has cost North Carolina thousands of jobs and damaged the state’s reputation around the world.

Rumors persist that legislative leaders are working on some sort of compromise. There’s talk of a special bipartisan commission headed by former State Budget Director and GOP benefactor Art Pope and former Lt. Gov. Dennis Wicker, a Democrat, that will seek to find common ground on the issues raised by HB2.

A few weeks ago, the Charlotte City Council rightly refused to repeal its ordinance that protected LGBT people from discrimination, scuttling what was reportedly a “compromise” that involved the General Assembly making unspecified changes to HB2 if Charlotte wiped out its ordinance that the statewide law overruled.

Many supporters of HB2 continue to claim Charlotte needs to repeal its ordinance first as some sort of symbolic show of good faith that state lawmakers and Gov. Pat McCrory will respond to. Other lawmakers seem perfectly comfortable with the law remaining in place until there’s a final decision by the courts.

Lost in all the talk of compromise is what’s at stake in the entire HB2 debate: It’s about LGBT people having the same rights as everybody else, protections from being fired or denied services simply because they are gay or bisexual or transgender.

In the last few weeks more than one conservative has prefaced his or her remarks about HB2 by saying, “no one wants to discriminate against anybody.” Gov. McCrory too has claimed not to support discrimination.

But not one of the defenders of HB2 who claims to support equal rights has demanded that lawmakers break the logjam over the divisive law by passing a statewide nondiscrimination standard that includes sexual orientation and gender identity.

And that is the first thing that must happen.

McCrory says Congress needs to act to settle the question at the federal level but in the letter he sent to congressional leaders he took no position on what they should do, only that they should do something.

McCrory needs to publicly demand protections for the LGBT people too. He is the leader of North Carolina and HB2 is his law and the damage to the state is happening on his watch.

If Pope and Wicker want to lead a statewide discussion about bathroom and public facility policies for transgender people to help educate the public and policymakers, that might be useful and it’s worth remembering that more than 200 local governments, including 17 of the 20 largest cities in country, have ordinances similar to Charlotte’s in place and have had no problems.

The problem of course is that a loud segment of the far-right base of the Republican Party that is now in power has no interest in protecting LGBT people from discrimination. None.

Lt. Gov. Dan Forest recently told a radio interviewer that laws “discriminate against behavior, not against people” and then said people don’t have the right to speed on the highways, that the law discriminates against that behavior – a new twist on the offensive and ridiculous claim that being gay itself not a problem but acting on that sexual orientation is the issue.

Never mind that this is the 21st century and that it’s finally legal for same-sex partners to marry in North Carolina and everywhere else in the United States.

But Forest and the groups that make up the misnamed N.C. Values Coalition show no signs of backing off their ferocious defense of discrimination. They are only intensifying their fight against equal rights.

McCrory and Pope and everyone else who claims to want to address the problems created by HB2 need to start there, by confronting the discrimination that’s at the core of it all.

That’s what CEOs and performers and tourists want to see, that North Carolina does not openly discriminate against people because of their sexual orientation or gender identity.

It’s past time for lawmakers and McCrory to make that happen.

Chris Fitzsimon is the founder and executive director of N.C. Policy Watch.