NC receives scorn, while Houston avoids boycott over loss of LGBT protections

Published: Apr. 16, 2016 at 3:08 PM EDT|Updated: May. 16, 2016 at 3:08 PM EDT
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CHARLOTTE, NC (Steve Harrison/The Charlotte Observer) - Two weeks ago, in a statement about the controversy over House Bill 2, Gov. Pat McCrory's press office questioned why North Carolina was being maligned, while another city without LGBT protections was hosting a premier sports event.

The governor "looks forward to cheering for the UNC Tar Heels in the NCAA Final Four being played in Houston, a city that defeated a similar bathroom ordinance referendum last year with over 61% of the vote."

McCrory also questioned why the state was being blasted in 2016, when the Charlotte City Council voted down a nondiscrimination ordinance for LGBT individuals in 2015.

"Where was this coordinated outrage and media attention when the original bathroom ordinance was defeated in Charlotte just last year?" the statement asked.

McCrory's statement illustrates a common criticism by conservatives during the nationwide furor over HB2: that North Carolina is being unfairly cast as an intolerant state, while other cities and states that have rejected LGBT protections have been given a free pass.

McCrory this week issued an executive order in an attempt to diffuse the uproar. He extended LGBT protections to many state employees, but his order left intact the most significant parts of HB2.

Some businesses remain critical, while others said the state is moving in the right direction.

McCrory and the GOP legislature received a boost Friday when the NBA announced it has no plans to move the 2017 All-Star Game from Charlotte. NBA Commissioner Adam Silver said the league believes HB2 is "problematic" for the league, but the league struggled with the inconsistency of moving the game from Charlotte, while the Charlotte Hornets would be preparing for a playoff game next week.

In the last six months, Charlotte and Houston have been the most prominent cities to debate LGBT protections, most notably allowing transgender individuals to use the bathroom that corresponds to their gender identity.

The Houston City Council approved such an ordinance, only to have voters overwhelmingly overturn it in November 2015.

But Houston hosted the Final Four earlier this month, and the NCAA did not contemplate moving the game. After the N.C. General Assembly passed HB2, the NCAA said it would monitor the law's impact and decide whether Greensboro and Charlotte would hold future early-round tournament games in 2017 and 2018.

The magazine Texas Monthly noted Houston has suffered hardly any economic blowback from voters rejecting the nondiscrimination ordinance. The magazine said the Bayou City "has suffered no other consequences – nothing, nada, zilch."

Cathryn Oakley, senior legislative council with the Human Rights Campaign, a Washington D.C. LGBT advocacy group, said the actions of the N.C. legislature were worse than what happened in Houston.

"To characterize Houston and HB2 as being similar is not honest," she said.

She said the repeal effort in Houston put the city's LGBT protections "back to zero," where they were before the ordinance was passed.

In North Carolina, Oakley said the General Assembly undid the Charlotte ordinance but then "wrote discrimination into law."

She is referring to HB2 prohibiting cities and towns from adding LGBT protections in places of public accommodation, as well as requiring people to use the bathroom that corresponds with the sex on their birth certificate.

"They didn't go to zero," she said. "They bypassed zero. They put the state in a position where it's worse for transgender individuals than it was before."

"In Houston today, there is no law that says people have to discriminate against trans people," Oakley said. "Maybe some people will do that. It might happen, it might not. Here in NC, it's the law. That's what garnering all of this outrage."

Another difference is that voters in Houston made the ultimate decision. It's hard to use corporate leverage to change the minds of hundreds of thousands of voters; it's much easier to focus on a single governor and a state legislature.

That was the case in Indiana and Georgia, whose legislatures passed religious freedom bills that critics said were veiled attempts to allow discrimination. In those two states, there was an outcry from business that prompted their governors to either moderate or veto the legislation.

But N.C. Republicans have focused on a comparison with Houston.

The Rev. Dave Welch, president of the Texas Pastor Council, wrote McCrory on April 5. His message: Stay strong. The threats of economic boycotts didn't materialize in Houston, and won't hurt N.C.

"As you know, the Final Four of the NCAA was just held in Houston and although the final result was a heartbreaker for your great state, the radical LGBT movement's threat to get this event, the Super Bowl, conferences and corporate bases out of Houston was shown to be a paper tiger and the raw use of intimidation," Welch said.

Tami Fitzgerald, executive director of the N.C. Values Coalition, said North Carolina is being unfairly targeted because the Human Rights Campaign wanted to make it an example.

"The truth is the blowback from businesses is bullying and intimidation by HRC, which has a big national headquarters in Washington D.C.," she said. "They have poured millions of dollars into N.C. to advance their agenda, which puts women and children into harm's way."

She added: "They have used corporations, and they have lied to corporations and told them things that aren't true."

The N.C. Republican Party has highlighted what it considers to be other inconsistencies.

Why has American Airlines, a critic of HB2, applying for flights to Cuba, which has a poor human rights record?

American Airlines, which criticized HB2, said McCrory's executive order was a "positive first step." The airline said it remains "committed to continuing discussions with elected officials to mitigate the impact.

PayPal has canceled an expansion in Charlotte that would have created 400 jobs. But why does the company have offices in companies with punitive laws for being gay?

Dallas Woodhouse, executive director of the N.C. GOP, questioned this week why six U.S. senators called for the All-Start game to be moved from Charlotte.

"What these senators fail to recognize is that the NBA has a dozen teams in states that have similar levels of non-discrimination protections as North Carolina," he said. "Are they going to ask the NBA to move those teams as well?"

At a news conference Friday, NBA Commissioner Adam Silver said the league opposes HB2. But it struggled with the implication of moving the game on the Charlotte Hornets, who will host at least two playoff games next week.

"We have a team that plays in Charlotte, North Carolina," Silver said. "(If we move the All-Star game) What's next? Should your team be in Charlotte?"