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Before the Game Even Began, Charlotte Lost It

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By Terrance Turner

On August 1, a federal judge in Winston-Salem, North Carolina, said that he needed more time to decide whether to block North Carolina’s discriminatory HB2 bill until a trial on November 14. The Charlotte Observer reports that U.S. District Judge Thomas Schroeder—appointed by former President George W. Bush—held a hearing in the lawsuit involving six plaintiffs—three transgender residents, a lesbian law professor at N.C. Central University, and a lesbian couple in Charlotte. The litigation was filed by the American Civil Liberties Union and the gay-rights advocacy group Lambda Legal. Governor Matt McCrory, who signed the bill into law, is a defendant. The Department of Justice, which has filed its own lawsuit, is seeking a similar injunction.

The NBA has decided to move its 2017 All-Star Game out of Charlotte, North Carolina, after HB2 was passed there. “While we realize that the NBA cannot choose the law in every city, state, and country in which we do business, we do not believe we can successfully host our All-Star festivities in Charlotte in the climate created by HB2,” the organization said in a statement that followed months of public outcry.

Governor Pat McCrory signed HB2, also known as the Public Facilities Privacy and Security Act, into law on March 23, 2015. It essentially banned North Carolina people from using bathrooms or locker rooms that don’t match the gender on their birth certificate. “Public agencies shall require every multiple occupancy bathroom or changing facility to be designated for and only used by persons based on biological sex,” it says in Section 1.2.

As the Charlotte Observer explained, the law created a troublesome situation for transgender people: “Transgender people who have not taken surgical and legal steps to change the gender noted on their birth certificates have no legal right under state law to use public restrooms of the gender with which they identify,” it said in a March 26 article. The News and Observer, located in downtown Raleigh, pointed out that “the law is silent about what should be done to offenders, or even what the offense would be.”

It gets worse. Not only does the law prevent local governments from passing legislation regarding wages or even child labor, it omits several groups from its passages on discrimination. In Section 3.1, the law says, “It is the public policy of this State to protect and safeguard the right and opportunity of all persons to seek, obtain and hold employment without discrimination or abridgement on account of race, religion, color, national origin, age, biological sex or handicap by employers which regularly employ 15 or more employees.” It also prevents anyone from suing regarding any discriminatory behavior. Section 3.2 declares, “This Article does not create, and shall not be construed to create or support, a statutory or common law private right of action, and no person may bring any civil action based upon the public policy expressed herein.”

Section 3.3 is even less inclusive: “It is the public policy of this State to protect and safeguard the right and opportunity of all individuals within the State to enjoy fully and equally the goods, services, facilities, privileges, advantages, and accommodations of places of public accommodation free of discrimination because of race, religion, color, national origin, or biological sex,” provided that the above bathroom ordinance is obeyed. The public accommodations section doesn’t protect the aged, disabled, or veterans. Neither section protects LGBT people from discrimination in public accommodations or employment.

Worst of all, both sections have clauses preventing cities or local government entities from passing legislation with LGBT protections in those categories. Section 3.3 states that the statewide HB2 will “supersede and preempt any ordinance, regulation, resolution or policy adopted or imposed by a unit of local government” regarding discrimination. This essentially invalidates a Charlotte law that would have ensured equal treatment for LGBT residents of that city.

Charlotte mayor Jennifer Roberts released a statement picked up by NBC Charlotte affiliate WCNC: “I am appalled with the General Assembly’s actions today. It has passed a bill that is worse than what we have seen in Indiana and Georgia and other states. This legislation is literally the most anti-LGBT legislation in the country.” The Raleigh City Council passed a resolution calling for the bill’s repeal, according to an April 19 report by the News and Observer. Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders opposed HB2. President Obama gave remarks in London referring to both the North Carolina and Mississippi laws: “The laws that have been passed there are wrong and should be overturned,” he said, according to ABC News. Even Beyoncé weighed in with a statement on her website urging fans to support Equality NC, which was working in opposition to HB2.

In July, NBA Commissioner Adam Silver met with team owners and league executives in Las Vegas to discuss league issues. One of them was HB2 and its effect on the All-Star Game, scheduled for February. Golden State Warriors president and COO Rick Welts, who is openly gay, gave an address. According to USA Today, Welts, 63, told the crowd that he wouldn’t feel comfortable attending the All-Star Game in Charlotte. He added that several NBA team employees had told him they would also be uncomfortable. That was the final straw; within two weeks, the game was out of Charlotte.

Michael Jordan, majority owner of the Charlotte Hornets, released a statement supporting the NBA’s decision. “We understand the NBA’s decision and the challenges around holding the NBA All-Star Game in Charlotte this season,” he said. Minority owner Felix Sabates, however, was beside himself. Sabates wrote a letter to Hornets ownership accusing the league of overreach and blaming the Charlotte City Council for the city losing the game. “It is [a] shame that less than one tenth of our country is forcing the league to have such a knee-jerk reaction,” he said. “Shame on those responsible for such a short-sighted decision to take the NBA All Star [game] away from Charlotte.”

Sabates was in the minority. The New Orleans Pelicans, Minnesota Timberwolves, Miami Heat, Brooklyn Nets, and Sacramento Kings all tweeted messages of support for the NBA’s decision. There was resigned acceptance from players Chris Paul and Paul George. But most expansive on the subject was former Nets player Jason Collins, who came out in April 2013—the first active NBA player ever to do so. “As a member of the NBA family and as a gay man, I’m extremely proud to see the NBA take initiative and move the All-Star Game from North Carolina,” he said in a statement on July 21. “Their decision is an extremely poignant one and shows that discrimination of any kind is not welcome in sports and is not acceptable in any part of our society.”

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Terrance Turner

Terrance Turner is a Summer 2016 Editorial Intern for OutSmart Magazine.

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