CHARLOTTE, NC (WBTV) - Charlotte Mayor Jennifer Roberts spoke one-on-one with WBTV Thursday about North Carolina's House Bill 2, the state's reputation and the Queen City's role.
"We absolutely want to bring people together," Mayor Roberts told WBTV's Molly Grantham. "We want to have a conversation on how to resolve the reputation our state is getting and how we work with our cities and counties, our rural and our urban, to recognize we have common interest, we have common ground. And we're losing jobs."
The North Carolina General Assembly passed HB2 on March 23, to repeal portions of Charlotte's non-discrimination ordinance.
Among other things, the bill requires transgender people use public bathrooms that match their birth certificates. It also makes clear that local measures can't expand anti-discrimination protections for sexual orientation or gender identity.
DOCUMENT: Click here to read the full bill
Charlotte's non-discrimination ordinance, passed in February by a 7-4 vote from the Charlotte City Council, broadly defined how businesses must treat gay, lesbian and transgender customers.
Some have said that Mayor Roberts brought on the controversy over HB2 by pushing for the Charlotte ordinance.
"What people need to remember is the mayor of Charlotte doesn't have a vote. That's the way the system works," Roberts said. "The council votes on things. The mayor can start the conversation, but this is a conversation started by thousands and thousands of people who believe that an equal, welcoming, inclusive city is the best way to be competitive in the 21st century."
She said that lawmakers in Raleigh were given more time to voice concerns about the ordinance than Charlotte was given to oppose HB2.
"We had an open, public process for over a year that included the voters of Charlotte, that included the voices of Charlotte. We passed a resolution for Charlotte, and we were very open about that," the mayor said. "We were not trying to legislate for the entire state. We were trying to legislate for our voters, our issues, our inclusive perspective."
"And when the state came in," Roberts continued. "We didn't anticipate the breadth and the reach of what they did. No one had that idea that it was going to happen to that extent - no one had told us - we did not foresee that because we were focused on Charlotte. And we would've been happy to talk to the state and explain if we'd been given any time, but 12 hours? Versus a year and a half of open dialogue and conversation with thousands of people."
HB2's passage opened a virtual floodgate from those who oppose and support it, throwing North Carolina into the national spotlight.
A federal lawsuit was filed by the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) and other gay-rights advocates. Several businesses and sports franchises also spoke out against the bill. Some businesses, like PayPal which had recently announced plans to expand in Charlotte, completely nixed those plans.
Mayor Roberts believes North Carolina can expect more of the same if a resolution is not met.
"I think if there is no movement with the two parties that are at odds over HB2, I think we will see more of what has happened already," she said. She admits, though, that coming to a resolution is going to be hard work.
"Well, we don't have specifics. We're just starting to get people together at different levels and we don't know what that resolution looks like. We bring conventions here from all over the world. We want to continue that reputation. So, I don't know... I don't know what that resolution looks like yet," the mayor said. "I tell you, I am deeply troubled. Because I see a great city and a great state and people who need to come to the table together. And we are better than this."
Roberts says she believes that politics is playing a role in the debate not just locally, but nationally as well.
"We're seeing this battle line drawn that is not just in Raleigh, but it's also in Washington, it's also in campaigns across our state and our country," she told WBTV. "It is my sincere hope that people can get together and talk about how we can move forward as a welcoming, inclusive country where people are treated equally before the law. I thought that was the foundation of democracy."
The mayor said name calling and finger pointing do not help the issue.
"I want to ask people to open their hearts and to truly try to reach out and understand the other side, no matter what side you are on," Roberts said. "We are all neighbors. We are all in this together. If Charlotte loses, the state loses because our sales taxes go to the state. And we are the economic engine. We don't want Raleigh to suffer. We don't want Greensboro to suffer. We don't want our cities or our counties to suffer. We're all in this together, please open your hearts and minds, take a step back. Let's find a resolution."