CHARLOTTE, NC (WBTV) - The Charlotte Chamber of Commerce, together with hospitality and tourism leaders, called for the city of Charlotte and state leaders to repeal controversial LGBT legislation that has thrust the state into the national spotlight.
House Bill 2 had repeatedly been named the reason for the state losing high profile sports games, business expansions and concerts.
The joint call for action comes days after a lobbyist group said it had been given assurances by Governor Pat McCrory that he would call a special session to repeal HB2 if the city of Charlotte repealed its non-discrimination ordinance and if there was enough support in the General Assembly to repeal the law.
"If the Charlotte City Council totally repeals the ordinance and then we can confirm there is support to repeal among the majority of state lawmakers in the House and Senate, the governor will call a special session," McCrory's communications director Josh Ellis said Friday.
Ellis said the Governor has been saying House Bill 2 was only needed if the Charlotte ordinance remained in place.
The renewed call for repeal was sparked by a memo from the North Carolina Restaurant & Lodging Association (NCRLA) Friday afternoon calling for "policy makers on all sides of this issue to work together to find resolution quickly."
What is House Bill 2?
HB2 requires individuals to use the bathroom corresponding to the gender listed on their birth certificate in government buildings, schools and universities, and initially took away the ability of employees to sue their employers in state court for discrimination or wrongful termination, among other things.
Months later, the legislature voted only to change a portion of HB2 that stripped workers of the right to sue their employers for wrongful termination.
The bill was passed in a one-day special session in late March and was signed by Governor McCrory later that night.
It came as a response to a non-discrimination ordinance passed in February by the Charlotte City Council. The ordinance broadly defined how businesses should treat gay, lesbian and transgender customers. The debate, as in other cities, focused on bathrooms.
Chamber calls for 'reset' on legislation
"How many more opportunities could we have where we miss such an opportunity to do something about HB2? In this case, outright repeal." said Charlotte Chamber Chairman Ned Curran Sunday evening.
Some people are calling it a reset, putting the city back to the place it was before Charlotte adopted the non-discrimination ordinance earlier this year.
"That doesn't mean that's where people have to settle," Curran added. "This is not about people conceding their values. This is just an opportunity to say we've had a law with unintended consequences."
"We have an opportunity for a solution," Chamber president Bob Morgan said. "Neither side is going to be 100-percent satisfied with this, but North Carolina will be better off if we can limit the damage."
"The reality is, here in Charlotte we have fewer protections for the LGBT community in place today than we did before the ordinance was passed," said Morgan.
Charlotte losing sports events
In the past week, the National College Association of Athletes (NCAA) announced it would be pulling all championship events from North Carolina and the Atlantic Coast Conference (ACC) followed suit two days later with all of its "neutral site championships." Both organizations cited House Bill 2 in their decisions.
Over the summer, the National Basketball Association (NBA) announced it was pulling the 2017 NBA All-Star Game from Charlotte over HB2.
"We don't know what the next shoe is. Is it PGA, USGA, CIAA? What's the next one?" asked Will Webb, the executive director for the Charlotte Sports Foundation.
Webb called the ACC Football Championship Game a "mammoth undertaking" says said it won't be easy to move it quickly. The game is played in December.
"You can't just go out and execute a contract and say we're going to move a major production, a major football game, to a stadium. That can take sometimes three or four weeks to get that done," Webb said.
"We're thinking they haven't signed that yet. They've already sold 45,000 tickets in Charlotte. The game's got a great foundation here," Webb continued. "We'd like to make statement saying 'Hey, the state's moved forward. We want the game. Can we please get it back?'"
Friday, Representative John Bradford and Senator Jeff Tarte issued a statement saying they were told "there may be a very short window of time where we could still possibly keep the ACC Championships."
Over the weekend, officials with the ACC said there was no additional comment about the championship games or HB2 past the statements made when the games were pulled from North Carolina.
"The problem that's been created is being felt across the state of North Carolina," Bob Morgan said.
He added that the risk of not acting in this possible window is digging the hole deeper with the rest of the state. Morgan says its interesting that the ACC hasn't yet announced another location for its championships.
"We knew if we weren't able to keep the NBA, that would cause an unraveling," he said.
The executive director for Equality NC, Chris Sgro, calls the move a political distraction.
"The only thing that can stop that hurt is the repeal of HB2 and this is a distraction," he said. "City council has nothing to do with this discussion, literally nothing to do."
He said the Chamber's political pressure should be on Governor McCrory.
Equality NC and the Human Rights Campaign (HRC) will hold a press conference Monday morning to call for Charlotte lawmakers to "stand strong and retain the city's non-discrimination protections for LGBTQ people."
"Stripping away the rights of Charlotte's own LGBTQ community is no bargain," said JoDee Winterhof, HRC Senior Vice President of Policy and Political Affairs. "Lawmakers in Raleigh, under intense pressure to fix a problem they -- and only they -- created, are proposing a rotten deal. This is nothing but a tired tactic already used once by Governor McCrory and his allies back in May. Nobody should take the bait by dropping the very protections businesses, the NCAA and other organizations have now made clear are needed and are a priority."
"Mayor Jennifer Roberts didn't sign HB2. The NBA didn't sign HB2. Pat McCrory alone signed the bill that has cost us millions," Sgro added. "Charlotte's ordinance is a competitive advantage for our business community and any economic developer will tell you as much. Stop wasting time and repeal [HB2]."
Senate Leader Phil Berger and House Speaker Tim Moore, both Republicans, issued the following joint statement Sunday night.
"If the Charlotte City Council had not passed its ordinance in the first place, the North Carolina General Assembly would not have called itself back into session to pass HB 2 in response," they said. "Consequently, although our respective caucuses have not met or taken an official position, we believe that if the Charlotte City Council rescinds its ordinance there would be support in our caucuses to return state law to where it was pre-HB 2."
'A step backward'
In an editorial Sunday, the Charlotte Observer called on councilmembers to hold firm, saying repealing the ordinance "would be a step backward, both symbolically and practically."
"It's a bad deal for the city, and more importantly, for members of the LGBT community who would lose their best chance at protections from discrimination," the Observer editorial said. "Council members should not turn their backs on those residents now."
"If Charlotte's goal is to restore its protections, the city's best chance comes with the political pressure that has brought us to this point," the editorial continued. "An HB2 compromise simply gives the governor and Republican lawmakers less reason to do what they don't want to do."