What happened last week? Understanding HB2 and the LGBT ordinance

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A lot happened last week. Now that the dust has settled a bit, we wanted to explain exactly what happened with House Bill 2, and answer some questions you may have.

In a one-day specially convened session Wednesday, North Carolina’s legislature passed and Gov. Pat McCrory signed a sweeping law that reverses a Charlotte ordinance that had extended some rights to people who are gay or transgender.

Instead of just eliminating Charlotte’s ordinance — which generated the most controversy because it protected transgender people who use public restrooms based on their gender identity — the law went much further, nullifying local ordinances around the state that would have protected gay or transgender people from being fired for their sexual orientation or identity.

House Speaker Tim Moore talks with bill sponsor Rep. Dan Bishop of Mecklenburg County, right during debate of House Bill 2 on the House floor.
House Speaker Tim Moore talks with bill sponsor Rep. Dan Bishop of Mecklenburg County, right during debate of House Bill 2 on the House floor.

Important points about the law:

– The state has long had laws regulating workplace discrimination, use of public accommodations, minimum wage standards and other business issues. The new law – known as HB2, the Charlotte bathroom bill or, more officially, as the Public Facilities Privacy and Security Act – makes it illegal for cities to expand upon those state laws.

– North Carolina’s new law sets a statewide definition of classes of people who are protected against discrimination: race, religion, color, national origin, age, handicap or biological sex as designated on a person’s birth certificate. Sexual orientation – people who are gay – was never explicitly protected under state law and is not now.

– Transgender people who have not taken surgical and legal steps to change the gender noted on their birth certificates have no legal right under state law to use public restrooms of the gender with which they identify. Cities and counties no longer can establish a different standard.

Now let’s answer some questions:

Does HB2 affect rights of people who aren’t gay or transgender?

Yes. The law changes how people can pursue claims of discrimination because of race, religion, color, national origin, biological sex or handicap, sending those claims through the federal system instead of state courts. The law also means a city or county cannot set a minimum wage standard for private employers.

Are other states taking the same approach?

Yes, some states also are considering new laws aimed at blocking specific LGBT rights. The national headquarters of the ACLU describes North Carolina’s HB2 as the “most extreme anti-LGBT measure in the country.” States that recently have proposed similar measures include Georgia, Indiana, Kentucky and West Virginia, experts say.

How soon will HB2 be challenged in court?

Advocacy groups, including the ACLU and Equality North Carolina, say they will soon take legal action. State ACLU legal director Chris Brook said Friday that a federal lawsuit by his group and others will be filed within days, not weeks. How quickly those expected lawsuits will be resolved is not yet known.

UPDATE: Two transgender people and a lesbian law professor at N.C. Central University filed a lawsuit in federal court early Monday morning challenging the new law.

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Can someone be fired in North Carolina for being gay or transgender?

Yes. North Carolina is an “at will” employment state and offers limited protection for all workers. State law has never included protections for workers who are LGBT. The language in HB2 makes it more clear that the state does not intend to create a new class of protections based on sexual orientation or identity, and also will not allow cities and counties to create such a protected class.

What are some of the political factors driving this?

Conservative religious groups within North Carolina are taking some credit for getting HB2 passed into law, and pro-LGBT rights advocates note there is financial support from national groups with similar interests. Many also believe gay and transgender issues are being used by politicians to motivate voters in a presidential election year. In North Carolina, both Republicans and Democrats are using HB2 as a rallying point for supporters.

Is the NBA All-Star game the only sports event reacting negatively to the bill?

No. Both the NCAA, which has men’s basketball tournament games planned in North Carolina in 2017 and 2018, and the CIAA, which has hosted its annual basketball tournament in Charlotte since 2006, say they’re “monitoring the situation.” And cable network ESPN, which has been considering Charlotte as a contender for its summer X Games, said it embraces “diversity and inclusion and will evaluate all of our options” as it seeks the next site for the extreme-sports event.

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Could this hurt economic development in North Carolina?

It’s too soon to tell. Major employers in North Carolina – American Airlines, Lowe’s, Apple, Facebook, Google, Microsoft, to name a few – all have said they’re disappointed with the measure, though they haven’t threatened to pull out from the state.

If boycotts happen, do they work?

South Carolina was the subject of many boycotts for flying the Confederate flag at the state capitol. The NAACP announced a national boycott of the state in 2000. Tourism officials estimated the state lost $7 million in the first month as groups from the NCAA to the American Bar Association joined the protest. The flag was removed last year not because of boycotts, but after the shocking mass killings at a Charleston church that appear to have been racially motivated.

Haven’t cities other than Charlotte expanded nondiscrimination ordinances?

Charlotte’s ordinance was the first of its kind in North Carolina. Three South Carolina cities have similar ordinances —  Columbia, Charleston and Myrtle Beach — along with more than 200 other cities around the nation.

Still have questions? Click here for more answers.

– Michael Gordon, Mark S. Price and Katie Peralta

Photos: Jill Knight/News & Observer; Robert Willett/News & Observer; AP Photo/Emery P. Dalesio; Charlotte Observer file.

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