A year has passed since HB-2, or the Public Facilities Privacy and Securities Act, passed both houses of North Carolina’s state legislature during a special session.
The session was called due to a February 2016 Charlotte city ordinance, which prohibited discrimination by sexual orientation or gender identity in public spaces or in any passenger vehicles for hire. In addition to relegating the use of men’s and women’s public restrooms and changing facilities to the gender noted on citizens’ official birth certificates, the HB-2 law prevents municipalities from passing anti-discriminatory ordinances, establishing a minimum wage or setting codes related to child labor.
The law did not provide any enforcement mechanisms; nevertheless, what became known as the “bathroom bill” sparked a firestorm that continues to this day.
Those who support the bill cite the need for safety and privacy in public restrooms. Opponents say it is beyond discriminatory in how it stigmatizes transgender people, and creates a solution in search of a problem that does not exist.
Depending on where one travels in the state, reactions will vary. Of the 10 most populous U.S. states, North Carolina has the highest percentage of people living in rural areas, and most analysts agree that HB-2 is largely popular across those regions. But in the state’s larger cities and metro areas such as Charlotte and the Research Triangle, attitudes toward HB-2 tell a different story. Signs with the hashtag #ThisIsNotUs are a frequent sight.
In passing the law, North Carolina lawmakers cited logic that “laws and obligations consistent statewide” would both help boost the prospects of local companies and “benefit the businesses, organizations, and employers seeking to do business in the state and attracts new businesses, organizations, and employers to the state.”
The outcome a year later, however, is a mixed bag.
One one hand, North Carolina has one of the fastest growing economies in the U.S. Good-paying jobs, dynamic cities, excellent universities, a beautiful coast and spectacular mountains all help attract transplants to the Tar Heel State. But estimates also suggest that the North Carolina has lost many economic opportunities because of HB-2. Last fall Wired magazine estimated that the state lost almost $400 million in business; shortly afterward, Forbes pegged that amount at $630 million.
Many companies based in North Carolina or with significant investments in the state have also spoken out against the law, including Bank of America, NASCAR and Lowe’s. And both college and professional basketball has cried foul over HB-2; the NBA moved this year’s All-Star Game from Charlotte to New Orleans, while the NCAA moved its March Madness games from Greensboro, North Carolina, to Greenville, South Carolina. The NCAA also gave the state an ultimatum: Repeal HB-2, or don’t expect any future tournament games until 2022. Many entertainers also skipped North Carolina on recent tours.
Whether the state’s leaders will come around to a change any time soon is doubtful. Considered a swing state in the closing weeks of last year’s presidential campaign, Donald Trump edged out Hillary Clinton by almost 3 percent on election night due in part to his surging popularity in rural counties.
True, Republican Gov. Pat McCrory, a vocal supporter of HB-2, lost his reelection bid in a squeaker during what was a banner year for Republicans nationwide; the state’s new Democratic attorney general, Josh Stein, was also elected in a nail-biter. But HB-2 supporter Lieutenant Gov. Dan Forest was reelected by a comfortable margin, and the GOP maintained its dominance in both houses of the state legislature. Those same legislators also kneecapped much of the power of incoming Democratic Gov. Roy Cooper shortly before he took office.
As Elena Schneider of Politico explained, despite the ongoing protests against the law, North Carolina’s fractious internal politics most likely means HB-2 is here to stay, at least for the foreseeable future.
But the law may prove to be a Pyrrhic victory for its supporters in the long run. The humiliation tied to North Carolina’s loss of marquee sporting events, in addition to hundreds of millions of dollars in investments, have together spooked legislators seeking similar laws in other states. A similar “bathroom bill” is being considered in Texas, but the state’s Republican house speaker recently said the legislation simply creates a “manufactured problem.”
In a competitive economy, companies do not want to lose talent, even if it is over legislation they cannot control. And legislators, who do not want to be tagged as job killers, are shying away from any form of anti-LGBT laws kind.