McCrory’s HB2 timeline: Tracking the Governor’s oft-changing stance and explanations

McCrory’s HB2 timeline: Tracking the Governor’s oft-changing stance and explanations

jk-907-hb2As the battle of HB2 continues it is instructive to look at Gov. Pat McCrory’s shifting positions on the law, its necessity and the arguments used to justify it.

Whether he was voicing concerns about “public safety” and protecting “long established values and norms,” defending “state sovereignty” or contending that that transgender people are actually mentally ill, the Governor’s explanations for the law (and, indeed, his position on the law itself) have changed frequently and sometimes dramatically over the last six months. Though by no means totally comprehensive, the following timeline highlights several key moments in this process.

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February 22: The Charlotte City Council extends protections in its non-discrimination ordinance to lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people. This includes protections against discrimination in places of “public accommodation.” Controversially, the law would explicitly allow transgender people to use public restrooms that match their gender identity.

Before the city council vote, McCrory emailed the council’s two Republican members to say passage of the ordinance would result in blowback from Raleigh.

“Also, this action of allowing a person with male anatomy, for example, to use a female restroom or locker room will most likely cause immediate State legislative intervention which I would support as governor,” McCrory writes.

In the email, McCrory rails against “changing basic long-established values and norms” and raises the specter of women and children being molested or assaulted as a result of the non-discrimination ordinance.

““This shift in policy could also create major public safety issues by putting citizens in possible danger from deviant actions by individuals taking improper advantage of a bad policy,” McCrory wrote.

February 23: N.C. House Speaker Tim Moore (R-Cleveland) begins rallying lawmakers for the special session that would result in HB2. McCrory privately tells a number of Republican lawmakers that he won’t call a special session if the General Assembly wants to take action that goes beyond the public bathroom issue.

March 21: Moore announces a special session to deal with the Charlotte ordinance, at a cost of $42,000.

Fred Steen, McCrory’s legislative liaison, sends an email to lawmakers saying the governor supports blocking the bathroom bill but warns about going beyond that.

“…it is our understanding that the proposal being considered goes beyond the scope of the bathroom issue and includes unrelated subject areas,” Steen writes. “Anything above and beyond the bathroom (issue) … should be dealt with during the full legislative session.”

Without McCrory’s support, the legislature calls itself back into session – a step that is within their power, but rarely done without the governor.

March 23: The General Assembly passes House Bill 2, “The Public Facilities Privacy and Security Act.”

As McCrory feared, the bill goes well beyond requiring North Carolinians to use the restroom or changing room that corresponds with their birth certificate in schools, universities and other publicly owned facilities.

It creates a statewide non-discrimination law that excludes LGBT people and excludes cities and counties from creating broader non-discrimination standards at the local level.

It eliminates the ability of North Carolinians to sue in state court for wrongful termination from a job on the basis of race, sex, religion and age. (This change proves so controversial it is later reversed in the regular session, though the period to sue is rolled back from three years to one).

It also prevents local governments from raising the minimum wage of $7.25 – something no local government has yet done.

Despite his earlier objections over the scope of the bill, McCrory signs it into law that night.

March 25: Facing an immediate backlash, threats of corporate boycotts and state travel bans over HB2, McCrory’s office issues a press release titled, “Myths vs Facts: What New York Times, Huffington Post and other media outlets aren’t saying about common-sense privacy law.”

The release goes not only to media outlets but also to state and some county employees.

Various independent fact checkers find it to be riddled with errors and oversimplifications.

March 28: The American Civil Liberties Union of North Carolina, Equality North Carolina, a lesbian and two transgender men bring a federal lawsuit over HB2.

The two transgender men — Joaquín Carcaño of Carrboro and Payton McGarry of Greensboro — were assigned female at birth and have not changed the sex designated on their birth certificates. They say using bathrooms and locker rooms for women could lead to harassment or violence.

McCrory doesn’t immediately respond to the suit, but at a groundbreaking for Norvo Nordisk in Clayton that same day he is asked if companies are likely to leave North Carolina or decline to expand as a result of the law.

“I haven’t heard them threaten to leave,” McCrory says in response. “This is another example of the media exaggerating. I have not had one corporation tell me that they’re threatening to leave.”

One week later PayPal will cancel its plans for a $3.5 million global operations center that would have employed 400 people, citing HB2.

March 29: Facing mounting criticism over the bill and a growing list of CEOs of major corporations condemning the law, McCrory says he is “open to new ideas and solutions” on the law.

A day later he dismisses the controversy as overblown, saying “”If there are ways we can improve it that’s great. But I think, frankly, the people of North Carolina want to talk about roads and economic development and jobs and that’s where I’m going to focus my attention, not on ridiculous restroom and locker room policies that some people are trying to force onto the private sector.”

April 12: McCrory issues an executive order extending some non-discrimination protections to LGBT state employees not enjoyed by North Carolinians in the private sector. But the order does not address the most controversial parts of HB2. McCrory comes under criticism from the political left for his lack of action and from some of the political right for a move they see as trying to assuage liberals and the LGBT community.

April 15: At an event in Wilmington, McCrory says of HB2: “This is not about discrimination, it is about common-sense etiquette, and I’m going to fight for that common-sense etiquette.”

April 17: McCrory defends HB2 on NBC’s “Meet the Press.” During the interview he admits he did not have any meetings with transgender people before the bill’s passage but says he had constructive meetings with them afterward. He misidentifies the LGBT advocacy group The Human Rights Campaign as “The Human Rights Council” and says they are “more powerful than the NRA.”

McCrory says he considered the Charlotte ordinance “government overreach.”

May 4: The U.S. Justice Department sends a letter to McCrory, alerting the state that HB2 violates federal civil rights laws and laying out a timeline for the state to remedy the violations.

In a statement in response, McCrory continues to frame the issue as one of government overreach – this time extending to the federal level.

“”The Obama administration has not only staked out its position for North Carolina, but for all states, universities and most employers in the U.S.,” he said in a separate statement. “The right and expectation of privacy in one of the most private areas of our personal lives is now in jeopardy.”

May 8: McCrory appears on Fox News Sunday, now framing the issue not as one of state sovereignty or government overreach but a question of the very definition of gender itself and the need for the state to defend the traditional definition.

McCrory says the Justice Department  wants to “define gender identity, and there is no clear identification or definition of gender identify.”

This is the governor’s first public foray into the idea that gender identity is central to the argument over HB2 – a shift in rhetoric away from talk of tradition and common sense and into a cultural battle that is emerging nationwide.

The statements foreshadow the coming legal arguments in the federal lawsuit.

May 9: The governor and state legislative leaders file a declaratory judgement action, asking the federal courts to declare that HB2 is not discriminatory.

In a joint statement, N.C. House Speaker Tim Moore and N.C. Senate President Pro Tempore Phil Berger expand on the idea of the struggle as one over public safety and the definition of gender.

“It’s unacceptable for the Obama administration to try to intimidate North Carolina taxpayers into accepting their radical reinterpretation of a law meant to protect women from discrimination into a law that would actually deny women their right to basic safety and privacy,” Berger and Moore said in the statement. “What the Obama administration is arguing has never been written into law by Congress or settled in the courts, and that is why we are seeking clarity – to confirm we remain in compliance with federal law.”

The Justice Department responds with its own federal civil rights lawsuit.

“There is nothing radical or even usual about the notion that the word ‘sex’ includes the concept of gender,” said Vanita Gupta, head of the Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division. “HB2 denies transgender people something that all non-transgender people enjoy and take for granted: access to restrooms consistent with their gender identity. That’s sex discrimination, plain and simple.”

May 18: McCrory blames LGBT activists and the U.S. Congress for the HB2 flap – and others like it around the country.

“The time has come for Congress to seek a long-term and comprehensive resolution through legislative action and bring long-term clarity to our national non-discrimination laws,” McCrory wrote in a letter to congressional leaders.

“As a country, Congress needs to step up and clarify the Civil Rights Act, which hasn’t been updated for decades,” McCrory told Time magazine. “A lot of things have changed since then, including the Supreme Court decision on gay marriage. There’s been dramatic change.”

“Congress has been sitting on the sidelines,” he said. “Every city and state and town has its own non-discrimination ordinances that are very inconsistent.”

At the same time, McCrory tells the magazine he doesn’t know enough about The Equality Act – a non-discrimination bill that would add explicit federal protections for LGBT people – to say whether he would support it.

July 21: National Basketball Association announces that it is canceling plans to hold its 2017 All-Star Game in Charlotte in response to HB2. In a radio interview the following day, McCrory terms the decision  “total P.C. (politically correct) BS.”

August 1: The General Assembly transfers $500,000 from the state’s Emergency Response and Disaster Relief Fund to a fund controlled by the governor to pay for litigation over HB2. McCrory allows the transfer, part of an annual “technical corrections” bill, to become law without his signature.

August 26: U.S. District Judge Thomas Schroeder grants a partial injunction against HB2.  Schroeder says the defendants are likely to succeed in their argument that HB2 violates federal law against gender discrimination.

Revealingly, a brief filed on behalf of McCrory and state legislative leaders delves deep into the state’s position that transgender people are not a distinct class of people worthy of non-discrimination protections but simply mentally ill.

That’s a position well outside the scientific mainstream. One of the state’s expert witnesses is vice president of the American College of Pediatricians, a group of a few hundred conservative doctors who split from the much larger and more widely respected American Academy of Pediatrics in 2002. The group has crusades against a number LGBT rights measures, including marriage equality and the right for gay and lesbian couples to adopt children.