My long-time home, North Carolina. NC was long a bastion of relative political moderation, specifically in contrast to other states of the old confederacy. That all changed beginning in 2010, when Republicans took over both houses of the state legislature for the first time in a century. In 2012, Republican Pat McCrory won the governorship, ending sixteen years of Democratic control of that office. From the day the “moderate” McCrory was sworn in, the gloves have come off, and North Carolina’s state government has become, by many measures, the most right-wing in the country.
Yesterday, the right-wing majority raced back into a hastily called special session in order to reverse an ordinance passed by the city of Charlotte. That ordinance allowed for transgender accommodations in public restrooms. But the GOP-controlled House and Senate weren’t content merely to reverse the Charlotte ordinance. Instead, with almost no debate – lawmakers hadn’t even seen the draft of the bill that eventually passed until yesterday – both houses passed and Governor McCrory signed into law a bill that:
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.
Furthermore, the new law specified which forms of discrimination could be outlawed and specifically excluded LGBT protections from the list of covered groups. In other words, businesses are now free to discriminate precisely on that basis.
There seems little question that H.B. 2 – absurdly sweeping in scope and an outrageous overreach relative to the alleged purpose for enacting it – will be subject to immediate legal challenge. North Carolina resides in the Fourth Circuit, once the most conservative in the country but now moderate to liberal as a result of a series of Obama appointments over the past seven years. If the law is overturned in the 4th circuit, the currently deadlocked Supreme Court seems unlikely to reverse. All of which is to say that the law may not stand for all that long.
But as long as it does, North Carolina has now courted a probable fight with the NCAA and, perhaps, the NFL and other pro sports leagues. These organizations have in the past all stated that they would oppose hosting major events in states that engaged in egregious forms of discrimination. Already this morning, the NCAA issued a statement in response to the passage of HB2.
In a statement, the NCAA, the governing body for college athletics, said 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.”
Future NCAA events scheduled in North Carolina include first- and second-round games in the men’s NCAA basketball tournament in Greensboro in 2017 and in Charlotte in 2018.
“Our commitment to the fair treatment of all individuals, regardless of sexual orientation or gender identity, has not changed and is at the core of our NCAA values,” the NCAA said. “It is our expectation that all people will be welcomed and treated with respect in cities that host our NCAA championships and events.”
College basketball is, needless to say, a big deal in North Carolina. The possibility that the NCAA might pull its tournament games from the state, whatever the economic impact, will generate significant anger and negative attention. It’s not just the NCAA, and potential fallout from other sports organizations that is at stake here. American Airlines, Red Hat, Pay Pal and other large companies that do significant business or are headquartered in the state have already criticized the law. The Carolina Panthers’ bathroom policy allows individuals to use whichever one they’re comfortable in. Whether and what action the NFL might take remains to be seen. But it did threaten to pull the Super Bowl from Arizona two years ago after that state passed a “religious freedom” law that would have allowed businesses to discriminate against LGBT folks. Threats by the NFL, MLB and other major entities, among other things, caused Arizona’s then governor, the reactionary Jan Brewer, to veto the bill.
All of which is to say that this one instance in which major sports events’ (exaggerated) economic impact, as well as the hard to quantify symbolic significance such an economic boycott could have, could play a role in reversing a truly odious and despicable act by North Carolina’s retrograde government.