Under the Dome

A year after HB2 repeal, LGBT North Carolinians "do not know who their champions are"

It has been exactly one year since the N.C. General Assembly passed its compromise to repeal House Bill 2, commonly referred to as the "bathroom bill," which required residents to use the bathroom in public facilities that matched the gender on their birth certificate.

The partial repeal bill — House Bill 142 — was passed in a single day, after lawmakers had negotiated throughout the week with Gov. Roy Cooper. The days leading up to the repeal were emotional for some lawmakers, including Rep. Deb Butler, a New Hanover County Democrat who was just weeks into her appointment and at that time one of only two openly LGBT members of the General Assembly.

"I remember thinking this was a fine welcome," Butler said this week. "It was trial by fire for me as a freshman legislator. I had to get over any other apprehension I had about speaking on the floor and speaking to the press."

Butler and Rep. Cecil Brockman, a Guilford County Democrat — who is bisexual — both gave floor speeches on March 30, 2017, opposing the repeal. Brockman noted that no LGBTQ residents or activists were involved in crafting the compromise bill. Butler at that time noted that "this is so much bigger than basketball," referencing the fact that when the bill was crafted, North Carolina was under a deadline from the NCAA to repeal HB2 or be out of the running to host future sports championship games.

House Bill 142 as written effectively repealed the law enacted in 2016 and left bathroom regulation up to the state, while also enacting a moratorium on local nondiscrimination ordinances that, among other things, allow transgender individuals to use the restroom corresponding with their gender identity. That moratorium remains in place until Dec. 1, 2020. But there's still a lot that is unknown about what the bill actually means for members of the LGBTQ community.

Matt Hirschy, interim executive director of Equality N.C., said he still gets calls from businesses asking about what HB 142 does. But one thing is certain, he said: Since the repeal passed, members of the LGBTQ community "do not know who their champions are."

"I think the replacement for HB2 sent a clear signal that basketball meant more than the well-being of the community," Hirschy said. He noted there is a continual lack of understanding of which lawmakers members of the LGBTQ community can trust and look to for leadership. Many Democrats (and even a few Republicans) campaigned on needing to repeal HB2. Hirschy said some of those members who campaigned on HB2 repeal voted for HB142, but "they're not exactly the same thing." HB 142 isn't considered a "clean repeal" since it contained other provisions like the moratorium.

Last year, when the repeal was passed, Cooper caught a lot of flak for not including members of the LGBTQ community in the negotiations for the repeal. Hirschy said he believes Cooper is a good man who believes in LGBTQ equality but that Cooper "fails to consistently consult the community" when it comes to issues directly impacting them. "What the governor is lacking is a member of his direct staff, a member of his leadership team that is a consistent champion on these issues that he believes himself to be."

Butler said she is "absolutely clear" that Cooper respects and includes the LGBTQ community, but the situation last year was "moving quickly" and she doesn't believe the exclusion of any community stakeholders from the negotiations was willful. Progressive groups aren't the only ones who are still unsatisfied with how HB142 came about.

"HB142 is not an acceptable or permanent solution, because the repeal of HB2 left the state without a clear, unequivocal policy ensuring privacy and safety in public bathrooms and showers," Tami Fitzgerald, executive director of the N.C. Values Coalition, said in a statement. "If Governor Cooper is not willing to protect the freedom, privacy, and safety of women and children of North Carolina in multi-stall facilities, he should provide funding in his budget for construction of single-facility bathrooms and showers for public buildings."

The movement for repeal came amid economic pressures as companies were boycotting the state or pulling out of deals to bring new jobs. During an event on Thursday, Cooper said if it wasn't for the repeal of HB2, Amazon wouldn't be considering having its second headquarters located in North Carolina.

Also this week, PayPal CEO Dan Schulman discussed why his company spoke out against HB2 and pulled the company's planned expansion out of the state.

"[W]hen we made the announcement to go into North Carolina, we were obviously with the governor announcing an expansion, putting in an operations center there where we were going to hire at least 400 people. But shortly thereafter HB2 came out. I read through that bill front to back personally, met with members of my senior team, and from my perspective that bill allowed for the discrimination or the potential discrimination of somebody because of their sexual identity, their sexual orientation," Schulman said on Harvard Business Review's HBR IdeaCast podcast. "And from my perspective we could not just have these values be something that were hanging up on a wall, but we had to act upon them."