State Politics

Hundreds rally near NC Legislative Building in Raleigh to support HB2

Hundreds of supporters of a new North Carolina law that limits LGBT rights rallied downtown Monday to defend it against what pastors and Republican lawmakers said were lies churned into a smear campaign.

Speakers on Halifax Mall, just north of the Legislative Building, focused on the section of the law that requires people to use bathrooms in public facilities that correspond to the gender on their birth certificate. The law overturns a Charlotte ordinance that would have allowed transgender people to use the bathroom that matches their gender identity.

The law, commonly called House Bill 2 or HB2, has roiled the state since the legislature passed it in a one-day session March 23, triggering rallies for and against it, national and international news reports and economic damage from boycotts. Opponents want its repeal.

“We have a solemn duty to stand in defense of our state, in defense of the truth and in defense of HB2,” said John Rustin, executive director of the NC Family Policy Council, on the day the legislature returned for its scheduled 2016 session. “Encourage the governor and state legislators to stay the course against these despicable attacks.”

Monday’s demonstration featured some of the same organizers and speakers who put on a pro-HB2 rally outside the Capitol two weeks ago. But much has changed since then. More companies have announced their opposition to the law, reports of cities losing tourism have grown, and the United Kingdom has issued a North Carolina travel advisory for its lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender citizens. A federal appeals court decision in a Virginia case has thrown the viability of the LGBT portion of the law into doubt.

HB2 rallies dominated the first day of the legislative short session Monday. Opponents and supporters held simultaneous afternoon demonstrations on opposite sides of the Legislative Building, with opponents on the south side. The groups did not meet except when a small group walked by the supporters’ rally chanting “black trans lives matter.”

Aware that the attention of the world is on the state, speakers encouraged the bill’s supporters to stand fast and participate in a backlash against the backlash. Tami Fitzgerald, executive director of the NC Values Coalition, told the law’s supporters that they soon will have an easy way to post Facebook messages to businesses and “reach out to CEOs who have been bullying our state.”

Rep. Dan Bishop, the Charlotte Republican who sponsored the law, said opposition to it is based on “a media-fueled, ideological carpet bombing.”

“What we see is a new form of activism that is virulent and dangerous,” he said.

The response to the law has been extensive. PayPal canceled its plans to expand in Charlotte, where it intended to add 400 jobs. Deutsche Bank froze Cary expansion plans. Amazon pulled out of talks to manage the UNC-Chapel Hill bookstore. Bruce Springsteen, Ringo Starr, Pearl Jam and others – including on Monday singers Nick Jonas and Demi Lovato – canceled North Carolina shows.

Pro-HB2 speakers blamed the business backlash on Charlotte Mayor Jennifer Roberts and the Charlotte City Council for passing the ordinance, plus the Human Rights Campaign and Equality NC, an LGBT rights advocacy organization.

The Human Rights Campaign, in a statement, said the state’s political leaders are responsible.

“Governor (Pat) McCrory, Senator (Phil) Berger and Speaker (Tim) Moore made this mess all on their own by colluding to ram through dangerous and discriminatory legislation in less than a day,” the statement said. “If they had bothered talking to businesses or the people of this state beforehand, we wouldn’t be here. Now it’s on them to repeal HB2 and pass the statewide protections people of this state deserve.”

Christian churches and schools drove attendance at the pro-HB2 rally; some participants came in buses. Hundreds of people stood and sat on the lawn surrounded by government buildings. They waved signsstating, “No men in women’s showers.”

The rally began with pledges of allegiance to the American flag, to the Christian flag and to the Bible. Speakers quoted Scripture in defense of the law and urged rallygoers to visit their legislators’ offices to tell lawmakers they support it. The crowd was encouraged to boycott Target, which announced last week that employees and customers could userestrooms and fitting rooms that correspond to their gender identity.

“Has the nation gone crazy?” asked Rep. Paul Stam, an Apex Republican. “Has the nation gone nuts? Some people have, but you haven’t.”

Most emphasized that the purpose of the law was to protect women and girls from sexual predators who would use the bathroom ordinance to assault them.

“Sometimes it costs to stand for what’s right,” said Jeff Tucker, a bank worker from Snow Camp who stood near the stage with his son. It’s illogical to allow men to use women’s restrooms, he said.

“God made women. God made men,” Tucker said. “If they have an issue with it, they should take it up with him.”

Lynn Bonner: 919-829-4821, @Lynn_Bonner