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HB2 a year in: “We continue to steer toward the iceberg”

On the first anniversary of HB2’s signing into law, Governor Roy Cooper continued to implore the Republican majority in the state legislature to repeal the law, which he said has “harmed our reputation and cost our economy thousands of jobs and hundreds of millions of dollars.”

Calling the day “a dark anniversary,” Cooper said in a Thursday statement the law “does not reflect our values” and criticized GOP lawmakers for using their super-majority to pass partisan laws but not to repeal the controversial law.

On Thursday afternoon N.C. House Speaker Tim Moore (R-Cleveland) told reporters current repeal bills – even with various caveats – don’t have enough support to move forward. He said the assembly would continue to work on a new repeal bill next week.

Moore said he doesn’t believe local governments should be able to extend LGBT protections that go beyond what is offered by the federal government. That’s a position that would seem to rule out even referendums that would allow such protections to be offered in cities where they passed by a majority vote – a significant movement in the GOP leadership’s position that could scuttle any significant ongoing negotiations with Democrats on a repeal.

Whatever the final language of future repeal bills, Moore said he’ll continue to oppose any repeal bill that would allow transgender people to use public restrooms that correspond to their gender identity rather than the sex designated on their birth certificate.

“They’re not going to see that on my watch,” Moore said.

Earlier in the day, at N.C. Policy Watch’s Crucial Conversation on the anniversary of HB2, a diverse panel discussed the law’s origins, impacts and possible future.

Rick Glazier, executive director of Policy Watch’s parent organization, The N.C. Justice Center, said the Republican strategy of blaming Cooper of “playing politics” with  the repeal of the bill is simply illogical. Cooper has been consistent in calling for a complete and unequivocal repeal of the law, Glazier said – and that’s entirely within the power of the GOP majority in the legislature.

“This legislature passed this bill with super-majorities in the House and the Senate,” said . “It can pass – it has shown – any bill with super-majorities in the House and the Senate. As of yesterday it had enough control over its super-majorities to override Gov. Cooper’s first veto. Really – we have an argument that the governor has no power to sustain his veto but he has the total control over making the deal here?”

“That is like reading a really bad version of Alice in Wonderland or some Kafka-esque novel,” Glazier said.

The harm to the state’s citizens, reputation and economic fortunes should have been enough for the legislature to alter its course on the law long ago, Glazier said.

“Instead we continue to steer toward the iceberg,” he said. “Not because we can’t change direction, but simply because we don’t have the political will to do so.”

Glazier was joined on the panel by Chris Brook, Legal Director of the ACLU of North Carolina; Ames Simmons, director of Transgender Policy at Equality North Carolina and John White, vice president of Public Policy at the Durham Chamber of Commerce.

Brook walked the public conversation’s audience through the ACLU’s lawsuit over HB2, which has its next day in court May 10 at the 4th Circuit Court of Appeals. He also warned against various compromise deals being floated in the legislature, saying the very strong legal case stands a good chance of “eviscerating” the anti-gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender portions of the law if it is given time to work its way through the legal system.

“There are a lot of instances where compromise makes sense,” Brook said. “Compromise does not make sense when we’re dealing with human rights. It does not make sense when we’re dealing with civil rights. We do not put rights of minority groups to a vote in the United States of America.”

“There are bad deals that are being considered over at the legislature,” Brook said. “No one who supports these deals is a friend of the LGBT community. They should give us time to get these measures stricken by the court before they strike a bad deal over at the legislature.”

Brook also shared with the crowd the real life consequence of HB2 on one of the lawsuit’s litigants, a transgender man named Joaquín Carcaño who works at UNC-Chapel Hill. After HB2’s passage Carcaño had a hard time finding a single-occupancy restroom he could safely use on campus. The closest was a 30 minute walk from his office. His office eventually found a single use restroom he could use in his building – but he would have to take a service elevator into a disused basement in order to get to it. Rather than underline his status as a second-class citizen each day while his co-workers used the regular public restrooms without incident, he elected to keep walking 30 minutes.

Ames Simmons, also a transgender man, shared a very personal perspective on HB2 and laws like it. After HB2 passed, Simmons said, he took the complicated and expensive legal step of having his birth certificate corrected to reflect that he was male. He now keeps that birth certificate with him at all times, in case he is challenged on his gender. That’s a more common occurrence than many might think, Simmons said – but just the beginning when it comes to harassment of transgender people.

Simmons shared with the audience the results of the 2015 discrimination survey from the National Center for Transgender Equality. The data – which included a North Carolina specific report – showed a staggering amount of homelessness, denial of services and accommodation, harassment and violence reported by transgender people who took the survey. It also showed that 62 percent of respondents in North Carolina said they had avoided going to a public restroom in the last year to avoid a confrontation over their gender. More than half that number said they limited the amount they ate or drank during the day to try to avoid using a public restroom.

Those numbers were compiled even before HB2 was passed, Simmons said – the numbers now would likely be much higher.

Simmons also rejected the bills that propose a repeal with a moratorium on new local protections for LGBT people like those passed in Charlotte last year, ones that would put LGBT protections to a referendum or include “religious exemption” language Simmons called a license to continue discriminating.

“What we really need is just repeal – full, clean repeal of HB2,” Simmons said. “And that’s what we’re working for every day.”

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