Leaving HB2’s discrimination in place is neither a compromise nor a fix

By: - June 30, 2016 2:23 pm

WB-HB2-330The last few days at the Legislative Building in Raleigh have been dominated by strong rumors of proposed changes to HB2, the sweeping anti-LGBT legislation passed in a rushed special session in March that has prompted businesses to cancel projects in the state and damaged North Carolina’s brand around the world.

There have been secret meetings, leaked drafts of bills, even an appearance by Gov. Pat McCrory at a closed meeting of all Republican members of the House and Senate.

By the time you read this, the legislation that some are absurdly calling a “fix” to HB2 may have passed the House or Senate or at least be on the way, most likely stuffed into an unrelated conference report to avoid debate or more controversy.

Never mind open government or giving the public the chance to speak.

Regardless of the legislative rules they bend or break, the intent is clear. Republican lawmakers are desperately trying to save face with an election only a few months away and trying to persuade the NBA not to cancel its all-star game in Charlotte because of the law.  Sadly it appears the NBA may be falling for it.

The details of the proposed revisions to HB2  have changed several times but all the versions continue to deny the rights of the majority of transgender people to use the restroom that corresponds to their gender identity, leaving them vulnerable to harassment and violence.

Under HB2 only transgender people who have had sex reassignment surgery and have changed their birth certificate can use a bathroom in line with their gender identity.

The new legislation permits transgender people born in states that do not allow birth certificate changes to obtain a creepy “certificate of sex reassignment” from the State Registrar with a notarized statement from a physician.

Transgender people who have not had the surgery—and that is the majority of transgender people— are still banned from using the bathroom that corresponds to their gender identity.

The secret legislation does restore the right of workers illegally fired to sue in state court and changes the state’s nondiscrimination standard to track federal law.  But that still means no protections for LGBT people in employment or public accommodations that many states provide.

The bill creates a special anti-discrimination task force appointed by legislative leaders to make recommendations to the General Assembly, with one version having the commission report its findings next spring, well after this year’s election and after the NBA all-star game in Charlotte.

There’s nothing wrong with commissions and open hearings and public dialogue, but that ought to come before controversial legislation is passed,  not after it is rushed through a one-day special session.

And if legislative leaders truly wanted to hear from the public and have open discussions about changes to HB2, they could have held extended hearings in the current legislative session that began in April.

Many of the news accounts of the secret negotiations are calling the proposed changes to the discriminatory law a compromise, which is as inappropriate as claiming it’s a fix.

It is neither.

If HB2 had not passed, LGBT people in Charlotte would be protected against being fired from their job or being denied service at a restaurant or hotel simply because of their sexual orientation or gender identity.

HB2 took those protections away and the new legislation does not restore them.

If HB2 had not passed, transgender people in Charlotte would have been able to use the restroom that corresponds to their gender identity, just as they do in 22 states and more than 200 cities across the country without incident.

HB2 took that right away from transgender people and the new legislation does not restore it.

If HB2 had not passed, local governments could enact their own nondiscrimination policies to protect their residents and could adopt ordinances requiring government contractors to pay a living wage.  HB2 took those rights of cities and counties away and the new legislation does not restore them.

If Gov. McCrory and legislative leaders were serious about sending a clear message to businesses and tourists and performers that North Carolina does not tolerate discrimination, they could have included in the new bill a statewide nondiscrimination standard that protects people based on their sexual orientation and gender identity.

That was the least they could have done and they didn’t do it. People in North Carolina can still be fired from their jobs or refused a room at a hotel in North Carolina because they are gay or bisexual or transgender.

Leaving discrimination in place is no fix. And there is no compromise. People either have basic civil rights or they don’t.

The name of one of the draft bills making the rounds at the legislative building was the “Privacy, Safety, and Dignity for All Act.”

But it’s not for all. Not even close.

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Chris Fitzsimon

Chris Fitzsimon, Founder and Executive Director of N.C. Policy Watch, writes the Fitzsimon File, delivers a radio commentary broadcast on WRAL-FM and hosts "News and Views," a weekly radio news magazine that airs on multiple stations across North Carolina. [email protected] 919-861-2066