After partial HB2 repeal NC remains woefully behind on anti-discrimination protections

By: - April 4, 2017 2:15 pm

Now that HB2 has been partially repealed, enough for the NCAA and ACC anyway, a lot of folks in Raleigh are hoping the issue of discrimination in North Carolina goes away for a while, at least for the four years that local governments must now wait before protecting LGBTQ people from being fired or denied services because of their sexual orientation.

Most legislative leaders don’t want to talk about it and when they do they continue to mislead the public about their justification for allowing discrimination to remain in place until at least 2020.

House Speaker Tim Moore this week repeated a talking point he has used often in the last few months, that North Carolina’s anti-discrimination standard that does not include protections based on sexual orientation or gender identity is the same as the law in 30 other states.

North Carolina is in the mainstream is what Moore and the original supporters of HB2 want people to believe. But it is simply not true.

While 19 states explicitly include LGBTQ people in their statewide anti-discrimination law, as the News & Observer reported recently almost every other state in the country allows local governments to provide the protections themselves, like Charlotte voted to do last spring.

North Carolina is one of only three states that does not do either, putting the state far out of the mainstream in civil rights and that is the heart of this whole debate, no matter what the NCAA or anyone else says.

It is currently illegal in Columbia, South Carolina to deny services to someone because they are gay but it is not against the law in Charlotte or Raleigh or Greensboro or anywhere else in North Carolina.  The bill that repeals HB2 makes sure things stay that way for four more years.

The compromise satisfied the college sports organizations and garnered headlines about repeal that economic developers were seeking, but it also leaves transgender North Carolinians vulnerable and without legal protections when they use public facilities.

Charlotte tried to remedy that too with its local ordinance that was misrepresented and demagogued by people on the religious right and the politicians who cater to them, many of whom don’t believe that transgender people actually exist. Former Gov. Pat McCrory made that very argument in court defending HB2.

Now conservative legislators are planning to file bills to increase the penalties for entering an opposite-sex bathroom, which is already technically a crime, even for transgender people who use the facility that corresponds to their gender identity.

The good news is that some lawmakers remain committed to ending discrimination in the state. Senator Terry Van Duyn plans to introduce legislation that would provide statewide protections for LGBTQ people, a proposal that was included in a bill filed earlier this session by Democrats seeking HB2 repeal.

And it’s not just a Democratic idea. Republican Senator Jeff Tarte has also filed a bill that would establish the statewide protections.

Progressives in North Carolina are dismayed by the legislation passed last week and signed by Governor Roy Cooper that purports to repeal HB2 and understandably so.

Cooper and other supporters of the compromise point to its economic benefits.  And it’s true that the perception of repeal allows the state to host college sports events again and some businesses may rethink their decisions not to consider North Carolina for relocation or expansion.

That’s good news but it’s not much comfort to LGBTQ people who continued to be marginalized, to quote a phrase that Senator Dan Blue used in last week’s debate.

They can still legally be fired and they can still legally be denied services because they are gay. That is offensive and absurd and immoral in 2017. And no one should have to wait almost four more years for civil rights.

That’s why the next step of this debate is even more important than what happened last week. Lawmakers who voted for the partial repeal of HB2 must join with their colleagues who opposed it because it left discrimination in place to make statewide protections in North Carolina a priority.

The NCAA announced Tuesday that the partial HB2 repeal only “minimally achieved” what was necessary for the state to be eligible to host postseason tournaments.

That is faint praise and does nothing to protect the rights of people in our communities. HB2 is not only about money. It’s about people’s lives and their dignity and their basic rights. And those should never be compromised.

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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