One of the most maddening aspects of the absurd debate about HB2 since it was introduced and passed in a rushed special legislative session a year ago has been the almost exclusive focus on the provisions of the bill that regulate access to bathrooms and other public facilities.
HB2 does prohibit transgender people from using the bathroom that corresponds to their gender identity even though more than 100 cities across the country allow it and have had none of the safety issues that HB2 supporters ominously predicted would occur in Charlotte.
But HB2 deals with a lot more than bathrooms. It prohibits cities from passing any nondiscrimination ordinances to protect LGBTQ from being fired or denied access to services. It bans cities from passing local wage ordinances or requiring local contractors to meet certain wage guidelines.
It even denies access to state courts for workers suing for discrimination based on race, sex, national origin, etc., access that was only partially restored by the General Assembly.
HB2 was never a “bathroom bill,” despite all the offensive demagoguery about the results of allowing transgender people the same access to facilities corresponding to their gender identity that other cities allow.
The law that has cost North Carolina at least $600 million in lost revenue and tens of thousands of jobs is at its core about basic civil rights for LGBTQ people in the state. It is the last desperate gasp of people committed to denying those rights.
That was clear a few weeks ago in the opposition to a misguided “compromise” proposal that would continue to ban local governments from allowing transgender people the dignity they deserve when using public facilities and allow cities and counties to enact nondiscrimination policies protecting LGBTQ on the job only after a public referendum.
Protecting gay people from being fired simply because they are gay would be up for a vote. Democrats, including Gov. Roy Cooper, indicated that they would support the flawed compromise if legislative leaders would simply drop the referendum required for basic LGBTQ protections.
But Republicans refused, even though the bathroom issue they claimed to be most worried about was addressed. They could not bring themselves to allow local governments to protect gay people from discrimination.
Even more compelling evidence that the fundamental battle for basic civil rights is at the core of the HB2 debate came Thursday as House Speaker Tim Moore met with reporters to talk about the status of his negotiations with Senate President Pro Tem Phil Berger on a new compromise bill to change the law.
Moore said that any local ordinance must be consistent with federal law which does not explicitly provide protections from discrimination for LGBTQ people, but many states include such protections and many others allow local governments to provide them.
Moore also said that North Carolina has been unfairly maligned because of HB2, claiming that South Carolina has a very similar law. But South Carolina allows cities to pass their own ordinances and it is illegal in Columbia to deny services to someone based on their sexual orientation or gender identity.
Moore and other supporters of HB2 want to deny Raleigh and Charlotte the right to do the same thing.
North Carolina’s law is not like South Carolina’s and former Gov. Nicki Haley last year explicitly rejected suggestions that her state adopt their own version of HB2.
During the debate in the infamous special session last March, both the House and Senate refused to consider proposals by Democrats to add sexual orientation and gender identity to the statewide nondiscrimination law.
Republican legislative leaders are wrong to ban cities in North Carolina from allowing transgender people to use the restroom that corresponds to their gender identity—as many cities have allowed without incident—and the lawmakers’ inflammatory rhetoric defending their position is offensive.
But the real issue is basic civil rights for LGBTQ people in our state. That is clearer than ever now, no matter how hard Moore and other supporters of HB2 try to divert our attention from their desperate stand in support of discrimination.