Yesterday, the Charlotte City Council signaled its intention to wind down the HB 2 fight
with a grand bargain to repeal the city's ordinance protecting the rights of LGBTQ people to not be discriminated against in public—including when it comes to what bathroom transgender people can use. In exchange, state Republicans have given their word
?) to repeal HB 2, the discriminatory law passed in March to preempt such ordinances, which resulted in a global backlash and damage to the state's economy.
The resolution to repeal the ordinance was hastily introduced
without any prior public notice and then passed unanimously; later that day, Governor McCrory called a special session for Wednesday.
If the legislature doesn’t uphold its end of the deal, this will have all been a massive waste of time. The Charlotte ordinance will remain in effect, and things will go on as they have been for the past nine months, with Charlotte having a legally meaningless ordinance. The ACLU/Lambda Legal court case will go on
If there is repeal, however, then Governor-elect Roy Cooper (who immediately made a statement afterward and had clearly been involved in the discussions
) and Charlotte Democrats will have handed Republicans a win soon after they lost the Executive Mansion because of this very issue, by accepting partial blame for the legislature’s mess.
"The Charlotte City Council recognizes the ongoing negative impact resulting from the passage of the City's Non-Discrimination Ordinance and the State's House Bill 2," reads the Charlotte City Council's statement, which looks like it was written by a Chamber lobbyist. "In order to continue thriving as an inclusive community and compete for high-paying jobs and world class events, the City and State must take action together to restore our collective reputation."
In response, House Speaker Tim Moore and Senate leader Phil Berger called Cooper a liar and said any credit for the potential repeal belongs to Governor McCrory.
“Today Roy Cooper and [Charlotte mayor] Jennifer Roberts proved what we said was the case all along: their efforts to force men into women's bathrooms and shower facilities was a political stunt to drive out-of-state money into the governor's race."
“For months, we've said if Charlotte would repeal its bathroom ordinance that created the problem, we would take up the repeal of HB2. But Roy Cooper is not telling the truth about the legislature committing to call itself into session – we've always said that was Gov. McCrory's decision, and if he calls us back, we will be prepared to act. For Cooper to say otherwise is a dishonest and disingenuous attempt to take credit.”
This move also deflects attention from what the legislature did last week to handcuff the Cooper administration
. And there’s nothing stopping Republicans from doing more of the same in Wednesday’s special session, jamming together anti-Cooper/Stein/Supreme Court provisions to help win votes for a repeal that’s bound to be unpopular among social conservatives. Nor is there any mechanism—beyond the threat of another public backlash—preventing them from repealing HB 2 and then replacing it with a watered-down version.
More important is that this repeal gives the appearance that, for Cooper, this really was
about politics, not about trans rights. After all, this bargain is pretty much identical to every other deal
we saw floated before the election, which Cooper’s team lobbied against. The only thing that changed is the governor.
By itself, a full HB 2 repeal will have some benefits for the state’s LGBTQ population, in that LGBTQ people (and particularly trans people) will not be specifically targeted by state law. But neither will they be protected—and given that violence against trans people
has reached historic highs
this year, that’s not good enough.
That’s where local governments come in. This mess could be salvageable if cities like Durham
take advantage of the HB 2 repeal to pass similar ordinances similar to Charlotte’s. Then it would be back on Republicans to overturn those ordinances—and it’s possible many Republicans wouldn’t want to relitigate the HB 2 fight, perhaps enough to sustain a Cooper veto.
Of course, that would take a lot of courageous city officials—and it presumes that the legislature’s HB 2 repeal doesn’t prevent them from taking such an action.
But if there’s one thing HB 2 taught us, it’s that local governments standing strong in the face of conservative attacks on their marginalized citizens, along with grassroots activism, can spur change. And it shows that, despite the makeup of our General Assembly, discrimination isn’t popular here. That’s why McCrory lost his job last month.
Democrats took that mandate and fumbled it.