Tanvi Misra is a staff writer for CityLab covering immigrant communities, housing, economic inequality, and culture. She also authors Navigator, a weekly newsletter for urban explorers (subscribe here). Her work also appears in The Atlantic, NPR, and BBC.
His new executive order seeks to walk back the law slightly, but critics aren’t buying it.
First, big businesses denounced North Carolina’s anti-LGBT bill, then they began to pull out in protest. It started with the NBA, which said it might not host the 2017 All-Star Game in Charlotte. Then PayPal withdrew, taking 400 jobs with it. On Tuesday, another 250 new jobs set for North Carolina were lost after Deutsche Bank suspended its plans to expand in the state.
Perhaps more than the moralizing of the law and the hurried manner in which it was passed, it’s likely that this business backlash is what prompted Governor Pat McCrory to issue an executive order to “clarify” HB 2. Here’s McCrory, in a statement:
“After listening to people’s feedback for the past several weeks on this issue, I have come to the conclusion that there is a great deal of misinformation, misinterpretation, confusion, a lot of passion and frankly, selective outrage and hypocrisy, especially against the great state of North Carolina,” said Governor McCrory. “Based upon this feedback, I am taking action to affirm and improve the state’s commitment to privacy and equality.”
— NC Governor's Office (@GovOfficeNC) April 12, 2016
McCory’s order starts by affirming that “North Carolina’s rich legacy of inclusiveness, diversity and hospitality makes North Carolina a global destination for jobs, business, tourists and talent.” Most of what follows is a reiteration of HB 2. But notably, the order extends protections against discrimination for state employees based on sexual orientation and gender identity. McCrory also (gently) urges the state General Assembly to “restore a State cause of action for wrongful discharge based on unlawful employment discrimination.” In other words, he wants lawmakers to alter HB 2 so that it allows people to sue in state courts if they've been discriminated against. He’s walking it back, albeit very slightly.
In an accompanying video, McCrory summarizes the message behind the order for all his critics, especially those in the business community:
We are also a state that strives to allow our people and businesses to be as independent as possible without overreaching government regulations.
These North Carolina values of privacy and equality came into conflict recently when the Charlotte City Council passed a new mandate that forced on businesses a city-wide ordinance of bathroom and locker room regulations, something frankly we had never seen or had before in that great city or in North Carolina.
Simply put, this government overreach was a solution in search of a problem.
Charlotte Mayor Jennifer Roberts had pretty gracious response to the governor, despite his thinly-veiled dig at the city:
Pleased to see movement from @GovOfficeNC. Historic to include LGBT protections for state employees. Look forward to more dialogue.— Mayor of Charlotte (@CLTMayor) April 12, 2016
But his other critics weren’t as kind:
To be clear: only real effect of #HB2 exec order is to extend LGBT protection to state employees while refusing same to non-state employees.— Sen. Jeff Jackson (@JeffJacksonNC) April 12, 2016
Politically, this is a big mistake for the Gov. Will be seen as a partial cave, not a stand on principle. Shots fired while in retreat. #HB2— Sen. Jeff Jackson (@JeffJacksonNC) April 12, 2016
Roy Cooper, McCrory’s rival in the upcoming elections and the current Attorney General of the state, said in a statement that the law was “a day late and a veto short.” (Cooper has also refused to defend the bill against the lawsuit the ACLU and other organizations recently filed challenging HB 2.)
The ACLU and other LGBT rights organizations were even more dismissive of the executive order. Here’s what Sarah Preston, the acting executive director of the ACLU of North Carolina said in a statement:
“Gov. McCrory’s actions today are a poor effort to save face after his sweeping attacks on the LGBT community, and they fall far short of correcting the damage done when he signed into law the harmful House Bill 2, which stigmatizes and mandates discrimination against gay and transgender people.”
From these reactions, it doesn’t seem that many of the governor’s critics are willing to accept the flimsy version of an olive branch being offered. But it’s possible that it’s enough to at least slow down the exodus of businesses and jobs from the state. If that happens, there’s a good chance things might stay as is, at least for now.