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.”


Five questions with Chris Sgro of Equality N.C.

As Executive Director of Equality North Carolina, LGBTQ advocate Chris Sgro has been on the front-line of the battle against HB2 since before it was signed into law a year ago.

Chris Sgro, executive director of Equality North Carolina.

But when former N.C. House member Ralph Johnson died in office last year, Sgro was chosen to finish out his term – making him, at that time, the only out LGBT member of the General Assembly. 

Sgro had the unique experience of living through the effort to repeal HB2 as a gay man, an activist and a lawmaker. This week, as we approach the anniversary of the law’s signing, we reached out to Sgro for his insider’s view on the political wrangling and partisan battles that have, so far, failed to repeal the law.

1) What insight into the ongoing battle over HB2 do you think you gained as a lawmaker?

I’ve now seen both as a member of the LGBT community and as a member of the General Assembly what HB2 looks like. And I frankly think there’s a disconnect there.

As I go to rallies, as I’m in different towns and cities, everybody is talking about HB2 – your cab driver, someone serving you a drink in a bar. And they’re almost universally opposed to it. People want it gone – because they think it’s wrong, because they think it’s doing economic damage to our state and harming our reputation. And that has not necessarily trickled down to every member of the legislature.

I think that the legislature is in a bit of a bubble in Raleigh.

There are some members who are great and who are standing firm for a full repeal. But too many members, especially in the majority, are too caught up in their own politics and the process.

2) What do you make of the most recent HB2 repeal bill, put forward by Sen. Joel Ford (D- Charlotte)? It has the “cooling off period” initially suggested by Senate President Pro Tempore Phil Berger (R-Rockingham) back in December, that would put a 30-day moratorium on ordinances like the one Charlotte passed, extending LGBT protections.

I think it’s disappointing but not surprising to see Joel Ford ally himself with Senator Berger. Numerous times during the session people would see him check in with the Republican leadership but frankly he doesn’t check in with his progressive allies.

This isn’t the first time he’s made it clear he’s not a friend to the LGBT community. He voted for the magistrate bill, to allow them to opt out of marriages.

I think he thinks this is a play for him in his mayoral bid and it’s going to backfire on him. I’m deeply wary of any effort that has Joel Ford’s name on it, especially when it’s essentially Berger’s bill from before.

3) I’ve spoken to some LGBT people who are frustrated that the repeal of HB2 has been discussed mostly in terms of economic damage and others who say they understand that’s the best way to engage people who aren’t directly impacted by HB2. But even with the severe economic damage that has been done, we’re still at this stalemate over repeal. Did even the economic appeal fail?

Read more

Courts & the Law, News

Groups protest Gorsuch as confirmation begins

Progressive groups and advocates gathered Monday morning to protest the nomination of Neil Gorsuch for U.S.Supreme Court.

A number of progressive groups and advocates gathered in front of the Federal Building in downtown Raleigh Monday morning to protest Neil Gorsuch as his Supreme Court confirmation hearings began in Washington.

Rob Schofield, director of policy and research at N.C. Policy Watch, led off the protest with a statement about Gorsuch’s fitness for the position – and the process by which he was nominated.

“We’re here today to call on North Carolina’s two U.S. senators – particularly Thom Tillis, who serves on the Senate Judiciary Committee which is meeting at this very moment – to rethink their support for Donald Trump’s Supreme Court nominee, Neil Gorsuch,” Schofield said. “We also call on Senate Democrats to do whatever they can to stop the Gorsuch nomination.”

Schofield pointed to The Gorsuch Report, prepared by the non-partisan legal advocacy group Alliance for Justice, as a good summary of why Gorsuch is a poor nominee. The report outlines Gorsuch rulings and statements that suggest his confirmation would be bad for – among other issues –  the environment, LGBT rights, worker’s rights, the separation of church and state and the unchecked power of corporations.

“It’s outrageous these hearings are taking place in the first place and that Gorsuch is under consideration,” Schofield said. “If there was any integrity at all in the process, Merrick Garland would be on the Supreme Court today as its ninth justice.”

Schofield called Gorsuch a right wing extremist who would take American backward.

MaryBe McMillan, the secretary-treasurer for the AFL-CIO of North Carolina, agreed.

“We need a Supreme Court justice who cares more about ‘we the people’ than corporations pretending to be people,” McMillan said. “Despite President Trump’s promise to protect the interests of American workers, he has nominated a judge who has consistently sided with corporations over working folks.”

Citing cases involving employee negligence that led to an employees death, workers whose wages were shortchanged and women in gender discrimination suits, McMillan said it was obvious Gorsuch is no friend to working people.

“Working people need a judge on the Supreme Court who will look out for the little g uy,” McMillan said. “A judge who understands there can be no special protections for corporations and the wealthy, a judge who will uphold our constitutional and moral values of liberty, equality and justice for all.”

“Neil Gorusch is not that judge,” McMillian said.

Ames Simmons, director of transgender policy for Equality North Carolina and board member of the Human Rights Campaign, highlighted Gorsuch’s hostility toward LGBT rights. Read more


Five Questions with Matt Comer

This week LGBT advocate Matt Comer took on State Sen. Joel Ford (D-Charlotte) over his record on LGBT issues and habit of answering criticism with bizarre, dismissive Twitter GIFs.

The backlash to Ford’s posting a defecating dog GIF in answer to criticism from his constituents ultimately led Ford to apologize – while still justifying himself

Matt Comer, LGBTQ activist

a bit. It also led the manager of his campaign manager to say they’ll be preparing some appropriate, pre-approved GIFs for the senator to post from now on.

Ford is challenging Charlotte Mayor Jennifer Roberts, a fellow Democrat, as she makes a bid for re-election. HB2, prompted by the Charlotte City Council’s passage of an ordinance extending legal protections to LGBT citizens last year, will be a contentious campaign issue.

We reached out to Comer, a prominent activist and former editor of LGBT publication QNotes, to talk about where things go from here.


1) You live in Charlotte and this most recent dust-up is not your first run-in with Sen. Ford, I take it?

No – it goes back to when he was the chair of the Mecklenburg County Democratic Party and favored discriminatory policies then.

My concern that I think would be echoed by other LGBTQ leaders across the state is that Senator Ford’s first impulse on issues of equality seems to be to take a discriminatory position. Then, when he meets criticism he’ll pull away from that.”

2) In this most recent conflict, by tweeting insulting GIFs, he ended up turning up the criticism quite a bit before pulling away. Has that been your experience previously?

I really sort of expected him to come back at what we were saying with some sort of animated GIF or something because that’s what he does.

If Senator Ford is curious as to why it seems like so many LGBT leaders doesn’t trust his record, all he has to do is look at how he communicates with members of this community – it’s flippant, condescending, patronizing.

3) As a long-time LGBT activist, I would imagine you’re more used to butting heads with Republican lawmakers than Democrats. Is coming up against this with a Democrat new for you?

The Democratic platform very clearly outlines the party’s vision and values when it comes to LGBTQ inclusion. So it’s always frustrating when you have members of the party for whatever reason not living up to that vision and those values.

With Senator Ford is was the same way with Senate Bill 2, the ‘magistrate protection bill’ [that would have allowed magistrates to opt out of performing same-sex marriages]. With HB2, he says he supports LGBT protections – but not for transgender people. He’s certainly not the only one but he’s consistently the one who seems not to be able to understand what these positions mean to the community, how it hurts real people.

With HB2, I’m concerned that the narrative he’s created is one that will trade the safety of LGBTQ people for jobs and development. All these things are important, but one can’t be sacrificed for the other. He’s resorting to these anti-LGBTQ Republican talking points in order to get HB2 repealed.

4) And now, as he challenges Jennifer Roberts in the Charlotte mayoral race, these issues aren’t likely to go away. Are you concerned about the impact that campaign is going to have on LGBT people in Charlotte and beyond?

What I am most concerned about is the narrative that gets created by campaigns. If these campaigns – in the Democratic primary campaign – is going to make the Charlotte ordinance and HB2 a wedge issue, it’s going to be bad. This isn’t an election between a Republican and a Democrat where you would expect this to be used as a divisive wedge. It’s being used in the race between Democrats.

These narratives have a real impact on peoples’ lives. There’s a reason we have to build a homeless shelter for LGBTQ youth.

5) I understand Sen. Ford called to personally apologize to you and you’re going to sit down and have coffee. What do you hope will come out of that?

I told him I was looking forward to having a face-to-face dialogue about his record – that he should have that conversation not just with me but with other LGBTQ leaders.

He has an opportunity to listen – if he takes the opportunity. And hopefully he’ll come away with an understanding of how his voting record and statements have affected the community.


N.C. Sen. Joel Ford: Tweets, apologies and LGBT criticism

N.C. Sen. Joel Ford (D-Charlotte)

On Tuesday N.C. Sen Joel Ford (D-Charlotte) had a strange, tense exchange with LGBT activists who criticized his record on LGBT issues.

He responded to the activists with a GIF of a dog defecating in the snow. This led Matt Comer, a Charlotte-based LGBT activist, to ask if that was appropriate behavior for a state senator.

Ford’s tweet led to a public backlash and a scolding from the editorial board of the Charlotte Observer.

Ford ultimately deleted the tweet and issued an apology – including a personal call to Comer, with whom he agreed to have coffee to discuss his record and LGBT issues.

Dakota Cary, Ford’s campaign manager, even told Charlotte NPR station WFAE that his campaign is going to create a series of pre-approved GIFs for Ford to use, because he prefers to tweet GIFs at those questioning and criticizing him rather than give individual responses.

Cary said Ford selected the GIF of the defecating dog from the “awkward” section of his “GIF keyboard.”

“He used that one,” Cary explained, “because he thinks that when people like that come for him on Twitter… it’s easier than sitting down and typing out the same response each time.”

Asked whether Ford regretted the move and would want a do-over, Cary said yes. “None of the GIFs that we’ve been using have been well received, and so I think there’s a disconnect between trying to use GIFs as a way to communicate with people and what they actually mean,” adding, “You end up with a problem like this where what he wants to convey and what comes across (are) two different things.”

Cary said the campaign will consider creating a list of pre-approved GIFs for the candidate to use when responding to people on Twitter.

Ford, a more conservative Democrat, is used to criticism from the LGBT community.

Last year he was one of the few Democrats to support a Republican bill to allow magistrates to recuse themselves from performing same-sex marriages. This session he has been one of the few Democrats to support a repeal of HB2 that would put LGBT protections to local referendum votes.

But the criticism has turned up to 11 since Ford announced he’d be running against Charlotte Mayor Jennifer Roberts, a fellow Democrat, as she seeks re-election.

Roberts supported and defended the Charlotte City Council ordinance that extended greater legal protections to LGBT people in the city – and resulted in the N.C. General Assembly’s passage of HB2.

Ford said he supported the ordinance but not its bathroom provision, the most controversial part of the bill. He was conspicuously absent during the HB2 vote but later said he would support repeal.

In an interview with N.C. Policy Watch Wednesday, Comer said he appreciated Ford’s apology and hopes he’ll actually be open to dialogue with the LGBT community. But if he thinks he can make criticism go away while still supporting policies that hurt LGBT people, Comer said, he’s sorely mistaken.

My concern that I think would be echoed by other LGBTQ leaders across the state is that Senator Ford’s first impulse on issues of equality seems to be to take a discriminatory position,” Comer said. “Then, when he meets criticism he’ll pull away from that.”

Matt Comer, LGBTQ activist

If Ford wants to be mayor of Charlotte – the state’s largest city and home to a large and vocal LGBT community – Comer said he’ll have to do better than that.

“He has an opportunity now to actually listen to this community and understand how his statements and his positions have affected us,” Comer said. “I hope he’ll take that opportunity and it can lead to some change.”

In a statement Wednesday, Ford left room for questions about just how fruitful that dialogue will be.

“To provide context, I am tired of being slandered by some people on Twitter as anti-LGBT and homophobic,” Ford said in the statement. “I have worked to find solutions that are realistic and impactful but some people do not see it that way.”