As I write this, TV sports channels are all about the upcoming NBA All-Star game in not Charlotte, as originally scheduled, but New Orleans, which is thrilled to have it. New Orleans got the nod—and the money—after North Carolina passed and has failed to repeal the infamous HB 2, commonly called “the bathroom bill.” Eleven months ago, our General Assembly passed that discriminatory legislation, and it has been downhill ever since.
Not a fan of professional basketball, I probably will not watch the game –much less attend, nor do I favor one team or the other. What I do care deeply about is that Louisiana, not North Carolina, is getting millions in hotel, restaurant, shopping, rental car and tax revenues, while North Carolina is getting nothing but bad press. Front and center on the All-Star Weekend website is this statement: “Due to the North Carolina Transgender bathroom law, the NBA has relocated the 2017 NBA All-Star Weekend.”
This sort of negative publicity has been going on since last March when the bill was enacted, and promptly signed by then Governor Pat McCrory the day after he saw a poll that erroneously reported a majority of North Carolinians supported HB2.
No one knows, of course, the exact cost of HB2, but a November 2016 article by Corrine Jurney in Forbes magazine said at least $630 million and counting. Under the heading “Cross-Industry Carnage,” Forbes lists the aforementioned All-Star game, the loss of NCAA and ACC championship, which recent news reports say might not come back until 2022, decisions by financial services providers PayPal and Deutsche Bank not to expand in North Carolina, entertainers including Bruce Springsteen, Pearl Jam and Ringo Star, who took a pass on our state, a moratorium on Google Ventures investments here and more. We will never know the businesses, conventions, vacationers and others who quietly made decisions not to come to a state with an openly discriminatory law.
Less quantifiable is the damage done to North Carolina’s once progressive reputation. While jokes may have died down a bit over time, North Carolina remains a regular target of late night comedians. I had my HB2 moment last spring in New York City when an art museum docent overheard a friend and me chatting and asked where we were from. When we replied “North Carolina,” the woman actually blurted “OOOH! How embarrassing!”
So how did we get in this hole, and how do we get out?
We got here not because transgender people were terrorizing other people in public restrooms but because leaders in control of the General Assembly thought HB2 would be a great “run on” issue for their candidates in the 2016 elections. In hindsight, they both misread the people of North Carolina and grossly underestimated the economic consequences of social discrimination. HB2 was a solution in search of a problem that is costing our state both money and our national standing, and it should be repealed immediately.
There are some hopeful signs.
Peder Zane, a conservative columnist for the Raleigh News and Observer, wrote this earlier this month.
“As a practical matter, the so-called bathroom bill was completely unnecessary. It addressed a nonexistent problem. Transgender North Carolinians never posed a threat to their fellow Tar Heels.
“Even its sponsors understand this. That is why, as far as I can tell, there has been zero enforcement of the law. Where are all the biological males cited for using the lady’s room?”
Legislative leaders failed in a special session to repeal HB2, and they are now saying that all this is Governor Roy Cooper’s fault, that he should come up with a compromise. This is an “alternative fact”—aka, a whopper—if I have ever heard one since Cooper was not in the legislature last year and had at all nothing to do with the enactment of HB2. Nevertheless, he has floated a compromise proposal and says he will keep trying.
People all over North Carolina are giving their legislators an earful about repealing HB2, and so should we. The financial cost and loss of national reputation are mind-boggling to address a problem that even conservatives say never existed.
If HB2 were really such a great idea, wouldn’t other states be stampeding to pass their own “bathroom bills?”
I hear only silence.