North Carolina, get ready for an LGBT business backlash

 This is what North Carolina lawmakers can't handle. But it could cost the state a lot of money.

North Carolina lawmakers can’t handle this. But it could cost the state a lot of money. (Screenshot, WRAL)

With the passage of a state law that prohibits local governments from extending LGBT civil rights protections, many businesses, professional organizations, and other groups are having second thoughts about spending money in a state willing to build prejudice into state law. And it’s all because some Republicans are freaking out over bathrooms.

Those groups and businesses denouncing the new law include the National Collegiate Athletic Association, American Airlines, Apple, Dow Chemical, Microsoft, PayPal, and Wells Fargo, all of which either have a major presence in North Carolina or are considering business investments in the state. If their immediate reaction is any indication, North Carolina has a major problem on its hands.

The NCAA, which is scheduled to hold part of the lucrative March Madness men’s basketball tournament in North Carolina in 2017 and 2018, seems to be reconsidering. According to a story in the Washington Post, the NCAA issued a statement that it will “monitor current events, which include issues surrounding diversity, in all cities bidding on NCAA championships and events, as well as cities that have already been named as future host sites.”

American Airlines, which has Charlotte as a hub, employs 14,000 people in North Carolina. “We believe no individual should be discriminated against because of gender identity or sexual orientation,” said AA spokesman Ross Feinstein, according to the Post story. “Laws that allow such discrimination go against our fundamental belief of equality and are bad for the economies of the states in which they are enacted.”

Maybe men don’t realize that there are no urinals in women’s bathrooms. All business is taken care of in private stalls with locked doors. Actually, they know that fully well — they were just looking for an excuse to ban legal protections for the lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender community.

The city of Charlotte passed an ordinance in March protecting civil rights for LGBT individuals. The wording of the law protected everyone from discrimination on the basis of marital status, sexual orientation, and gender identity or expression. Seventeen other cities and towns in North Carolina have passed similar laws with some degree of civil rights protection.

But then the “bathroom law” mentality began to take hold. Critics of the Charlotte ordinance started raising the specter of sexual predators lurking in women’s rooms, claiming to identify as female but just waiting to pounce. (Again — have these male lawmakers ever spent time in ladies’ rooms?) Opponents of the new law correctly pointed out that “there are no known instances of a sexual predator dressing up as a woman to commit a crime and then using similar city ordinances as a legal defense,” says an ABC story.

In a quickly called special session that lasted only 12 hours, the North Carolina Legislature rammed through a draconian law that went way beyond bathroom use. The full legislation wasn’t revealed until minutes before it was time for a vote — house committee members literally got only five minutes to read the bill. After passage, North Carolina Republican Gov. Pat McCrory signed it, and it went into effect immediately. Oh, and the special session cost the state an extra $42,000. I guess the GOP lawmakers couldn’t wait until the regular session that starts in April.

North Carolina is now the first state to ban people from using bathrooms for a gender that differs from the one on their birth certificates — whatever their gender identity — but the law goes a lot further. “It also prevents any local governments from passing their own non-discrimination ordinances, mandates that students in the state’s schools use bathrooms corresponding to the gender on their birth certificate, and prevents cities from enacting minimum wages higher than the state’s,” says a story in the Atlantic.

Wait — minimum wage? What does that have to do with bathroom use? Nothing, of course, but why waste a special session when it gives you a chance to turn the screws on local control? And here you thought Republicans weren’t the party of Big Government.

“The push by Republican leaders is the latest front in a battle in the Old North State between liberal-leaning cities and more conservative areas of the state, and it’s also the latest front in a national battle over LGBT rights,” says the Atlantic story. As the state legislative session ended last fall, state lawmakers in both Republican-controlled legislative bodies were considering a bill that would “prevent cities from passing higher minimum-wage laws, establishing affordable-housing mandates, or instituting rules about landlord-tenant relations. … Another failed bill would have required state approval for cities wishing to create new bike lanes.”

You mean some towns actually wanted to establish new bike lanes or protect tenants? Horrors.

McCrory faces what could shape up to be a tough re-election fight in November — he’s considered one of the two most vulnerable Republican incumbents in the country. His Democratic opponent, state Attorney General Roy Cooper, called the new law “shameful.” The legislation has echoes of the “religious freedom” law that caused such a stir in Indiana in 2015 and that ultimately had to be changed.

Another Washington Post story outlines the political peril for Republican politicians as well as the business backlash. “With the business community at their backs, Democrats can argue this new law won’t just hurt LGBT residents, but that it will hurt North Carolina’s economy — just like evidence shows it hurt Indiana’s. A survey found Indiana’s largest city, Indianapolis, was estimated to have lost $60 million in economic investment in the aftermath of a religious freedom bill that passed the state last year.”

Even though the law went into effect immediately, it faces almost certain legal challenges from groups like the American Civil Liberties Union, Lambda Legal, and Equality North Carolina. The state also may lose $4.5 billion in federal funding; the Human Rights Campaign says the law puts the state in violation of Title IX. And all of this is based on bathroom freakout.

“Repeating a lie over and over does not make it true,” the Rev. Mykal Slack testified during the limited debate on the bill, according to the ABC account. “I am a transgender male, and I am not a threat to you.”

UPDATE: As expected, the ACLU, Lambda Legal and Equality NC are filing a lawsuit challenging the constitutionality of the new law. Since North Carolina Attorney General Roy Cooper doesn’t support the law, he has now announced that he will not defend it in court. In Georgia, Gov. Nathan Deal, no doubt realizing the business backlash that could face his state, announced that he would veto a “religious freedom” bill with many of the same provisions as the North Carolina law.

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