How choosing a bathroom divided a state and kept Bruce away
Over the last few months, a drama has played out in the legislative hallways and social media pages so wrought with turns, twists and rising stakes that it reads like a made-for-TV drama. But sadly the impact isn’t fictional. The saga over House Bill 2 is affecting the state financially, impacting jobs, threatening economic expansion and keeping entertainers and businesses away.
A report from the Center for American Progress estimated that the North Carolina economy could potentially lose over $550 million in private sector activity through 2018.
Within weeks of the March 23rd special session of the General Assembly, where House Bill 2 was introduced, passed and signed, nearly immediately, by Governor McCrory, five groups cancelled their conventions in the Wake County Region. As of mid-April, 16 more considered themselves “on the fence.” The Greater Raleigh Convention and Visitors Bureau revealed that the cancellations had already tallied up to more than $700,000 in losses to local economic investment.
The headlines just kept on coming: Pay-Pal cancels plans to build in Charlotte, Springsteen cancels Greensboro show, Deutsche Bank withdraws plans to expand in Cary.
Most recently the NBA announced that though it did not have immediate plans to relocate the 2017 NBA All-Star Game, despite calls to do so, they did see the bill as “problematic,” and said that they were hoping to help effect change by working with local elected officials. However, the possibility of pulling the multi-million dollar event lingers, a potential economic loss of about $100 million.
Activist groups who accuse the bill of writing discrimination into the law, businesses who are losing money and cities who see their own power diminished within the wording of the legislation ask the question: how did North Carolina get here?
Why North Carolina, Why Now?
House Bill 2, dubbed the bathroom bill, was passed in response to a portion of a Charlotte Ordinance that would allow transgender people to use a bathroom based upon their gender identity or gender expression without discrimination.
Houston, Texas recently took that same issue to the voters and it was defeated by 61 percent of the vote after opponents used the slogan, “No men in the women’s bathroom.” However, the Houston effort was localized to one city, while North Carolina’s actions as a state created bigger waves and bigger headlines.
Prior to the vote in Charlotte, Governor McCrory sent a letter promising: “This action of allowing a person with male anatomy, for example, to use a female restroom or locker room will most likely cause immediate State legislative intervention which I would support as Governor.”
However, the legislative intervention that was taken reached well beyond the stalls of the restroom.
Part II of the bill titled “Statewide Consistency in Laws Related to Employment and Contracting” took away cities and municipalities’ rights to enact more diverse discrimination laws and higher minimum wages. While Part III titled “Protection of Rights in Employment and Public Accommodations” effectively ended the right for anyone to sue in state courts for wrongful termination based on discrimination.
Both the lightning fast passage of the bill as well as the shocking scope brought North Carolina into immediate national focus. Governors from New York, Washington and Vermont banned non-essential travel. Late night hosts Seth Meyers and Stephen Colbert got weeks worth of material and of course the economic backlash started.
“I’ve listened to the people of North Carolina.”
On April 12, Governor McCrory released a video to announce an executive order that would roll back several segments of House Bill 2. The Executive Order aims to expand LGBT protections and returns the power to sue in state courts in cases of termination based on discrimination.
“Based on this feedback, I’m taking action to affirm our state’s commitment to privacy and equality,” McCrory says.
But it’s not enough according to the North Carolina Democratic Party Executive Director Kimberly Reynolds.
“I don’t think he went far enough in that executive order,” she says. “In my opinion, if there is not a full repeal of that legislation, you have not gone far enough. Anything short of a full repeal is smoke and mirrors.”
LGBT advocates agree. “The executive order does nothing to alleviate the concerns of the LGBT community. The protections appear to be toothless,” says Executive Director of Equality NC Chris Sgro.
However, the actions taken in the executive order seem to be in line with a WRAL poll taken amidst the controversy with the majority of North Carolinians not in favor of HB2, but “on the bathroom provision, 56 percent said they somewhat agree or strongly agree that transgender people should use the bathroom that matches the gender listed on their birth certificates, not one that aligns with their gender identity.” ››
Executive Director for the North Carolina Republican Party, Dallas Woodhouse echoes that sentiment in defending the ‘privacy’ portion of the bill.
“The Governor was forced to tackle a difficult issue, but the most important priority was to maintain longstanding bathroom policies of safety, security and privacy. Parents in North Carolina should not have to worry about grown men waltzing into young girls locker-rooms, and now because of Republican action, they don’t,” he says.
Another one bites the dust
Nationally, however, reaction remains strong. Entertainers, such as Ani DiFranco and Cirque du Soleil, continue to cancel events even after the executive order was announced. With the state continuing to face economic pressures, is there a possibility for a repeal?
“We need to repeal this bill,” says the NCDP’s Reynolds. “Governor McCrory passed a bill that was discriminatory and, at the end of the day, has turned into a job killer and a national embarrassment for our state.”
But she’s doesn’t think it will happen anytime soon though democrats plan to introduce a bill to repeal House Bill 2 on the first day of the next legislative session.
“I don’t see a desire on [the Republican] side to overturn or repeal or make changes to it. It would require political courage on their part, which I don’t think they have,” she says.
Instead, she has her eyes set on November: “It’s going to require going to the polls in November and electing people that’ll stand up for things that they care about and support—and that’s repealing this bill.”
Timeline of events
March 2, 2015 Charlotte introduces an ordinance to allow transgender use of restrooms or locker rooms of their gender identity or expression. It fails 6-5.
Feb. 22, 2016 Charlotte City Ordinance re-introduces Public and Private Facilities Ordinance. The ordinance passes 7-4.
March 23-24, National media and pundits pick up on the story, highlighting measures beyond the bathroom ordinance.
April 5, PayPal announces it will not be building in CLT due to HB2.
April 8, Bruce Springsteen cancels Greensboro show.
April 8, The Greater Raleigh Convention and Visitors Bureau releases a statement citing losses of more than $700,000 in economic investment.
April 12, Governor McCrory releases a video press release to accompany an executive order that rolls back several pieces of HB2.
April 15, NBA announces it is keeping the all-star game in Charlotte but finds HB2, “problematic.”
“Cirque du Soleil strongly believes in diversity and equality for every individual and is opposed to discrimination in any form. The new HB2 legislation passed in North Carolina is an important regression to ensuring human rights for all. We therefore choose to cancel our scheduled performances of… TORUK – Avatar in Raleigh (June 22-26).”—Press release dated April 15, 2016
There have been many big headlines regarding House Bill 2 and the related economic fallout, but for this reporter at Raleigh Magazine, the announcement from Cirque du Soleil was personal.
As much as Carrie Bradshaw glamorized the title “Writing Cannot Buy Me a Closet Full of Louboutins,” every now and again, there are perks. Last month, I had the opportunity to report on and meet Garth Brooks. This month, I was assigned to go on my first paid travel assignment. I was being flown to an advance showing of TORUK – Avatar to write a piece for the Raleigh Cirque du Soleil show. My editor simply sent me the press release quoted above with a frown emoji.
Thanks, House Bill 2.
Gender Identity vs. Gender Expression
The reason Charlotte’s Ordinance was considered too progressive by conservatives was in part because that both gender identity and gender expression were included. Gender Identity is what we typically think of when talking about transgender. It is internal. The person, despite being born with opposing anatomy, knows that they are the other gender and wants to be treated as such. Gender Expression is external, simply how you present yourself, formerly called transvestite or cross-dresser.
Should entertainers boycott North Carolina?
There seems to be two schools of thought amongst entertainers as they decide whether or not to perform in the state. Musicians and groups like Bruce Springsteen, Ringo Starr, Bryan Adams and Pearl Jam along with productions such as Cirque du Soleil and Wicked have cancelled their performances refusing to set foot in North Carolina in hopes that frustrated fans will put pressure on local legislators.
Others including comedian Joel McHale (who wore a homemade LGBTQ t-shirt at his recent performance in Durham) and singers Cindy Lauper, Jimmy Buffett and Mumford & Sons have opted to use their fame as a platform to advocate for change, donating proceeds to local LGBTQ organizations.
But which strategy is most effective? You tell us. Send us a tweet @raleighsmag
Why North Carolina?
Governor McCrory called the backlash against North Carolina, “hypocritical,” citing the ordinance that failed in Houston less than a year ago that did not result in national media and boycotts. So why was North Carolina found so guilty in the public trial?
Here, are three big reasons:
The state legislature convened a special session, often called an emergency session to deal with this measure, prompting mockery that which bathrooms people use is more important than poverty or education issues.
The Overreach of HB2
While many expected the portion which overturned the bathroom ordinance, the House Bill extended and expanded to take away the right to sue for wrongful termination in state courts, a move that many saw as an overreach, a claim that may be supported by the fact that Governor McCrory asked congress to repeal that part of House Bill 2 in his executive order.
This is an election year and the added drama that our Governor will be facing Attorney General, Roy Cooper, who has refused to defend the state in a lawsuit brought over HB2, increases the political stakes on all sides. Moreover, in light of the recent Amendment 1 and a switch to a Republican led congress in North Carolina, (prompting Moral Monday marches) Democrats and Progressives who largely oppose House Bill 2 have strong, active and well organized coalitions in North Carolina. These groups were able to quickly come together in their opposition, almost immediately releasing statements, organizing protests and contacting national outlets.