N.C. churches, religious groups target Boy Scouts as they open to LGBT scouts

Boy Scout Troop 169 in Mooresville, N.C. will soon be looking for a new home.

After a decade with the Coddle Creek Associate Reformed Presbyterian Church as its home base, the group was recently told it was being ousted. The reason? The Boy Scouts of America’s recent decision to accept transgender scouts.

Pastor Andrew Shoger told the Charlotte Observer he knows the boys of the troop – and its younger, affiliated Cub Scout group – will be hurt by the church’s decision. He also knows they had nothing to do with the Boy Scout organization’s policy change. But it’s a matter of principle, he said.

“Quite simply, we cannot partner with an organization that embraces what God’s Word clearly labels as sin,” Shoger said.

The Mooresville troop isn’t the first in North Carolina to face a church ouster since the policy change. In February a megachurch in Cumberland County severed ties with the BSA for the same reason.

Groups like the N.C. Values Coalition – which recently rallied conservatives against an HB2 repeal under any circumstances – have been encouraging parents to pull their children out of scouting and churches to sever ties with the organization.

“The Boy Scouts were founded in part to foster the healthy development of masculinity and morals among boys,” the coalition said in statement on the issue.  “It is sad to see an important institution that has served over 110 million individuals buckle beneath the weight of political correctness.

Several years ago, when court documents revealed North Carolina Boy Scout troops actively covered up rape and sexual molestation over the course of  several decades, there was no such push from conservative or religious groups for the severing of ties with the BSA. A number of the men involved in those cases went on to rape and abuse other children.


Mark Binker on the confirmation fights that weren’t, the scars of HB2

Mark Binker recently made the move from covering state government for WRAL to editor of the NC Insider State Government News Service.

This means Binker, easily one of the best and most knowledgeable political reporters in the state, will also be writing a weekly column. Which means you’ve got some new appointment reading every week.

There are two Binker columns worth your time today: a look at the fights over confirmation of Gov. Roy Cooper’s cabinet appointments and the scars of HB2.

In the case of appointments it’s actually a look at the fights that didn’t happen.  After a dust-up (and legal fight) over whether the N.C. Senate had confirmation authority in the first place, the actual confirmations have been non-events.

From the column:

There’s a bigger picture game at play beyond Republicans giving a Democrat a hard time or trying to get into Cooper’s head. General Assemblies and governors have always been at odds over who should be running the show in Raleigh. McCrory, for example, sued Republican lawmakers when they tried to stop him from overseeing the cleanup from a few thousand tons of coal ash his former employer deposited in the Dan River.

Confirmation hearings are part of the same long-running power struggle in a state where voters only gave the governor the chance to veto bills in the mid-1990s and the two branches of government don’t always get along when the same party controls them. So the court fight is more about the next governor more so than the current one.

Binker spoke with GOP Senators and Cooper advisor Ken Eudy about the process and why each side fought over confirmation, though the actual confirmations have gone smoothly.

Behind the scenes, Republican senators will tell you they have been generally happy with Cooper’s cabinet picks. They’ll also tell you that some McCrory administration picks helped inspire the move toward confirmations.

The only Cooper pick to run into any sort of turbulence thus far is former Rep. Susi Hamilton, a Wilmington Democrat who faced questions about her firing of a museum head and her involvement in some private business ventures. And even she has cleared the first hurdle in the process.

As Eudy sat and chatted in the foyer of the governor’s mansion in Raleigh, he reflected that any fight that breaks out over Cooper’s picks will have less to do with the personality of the nominee than the personality conflict between Republicans and the man with a bedroom on the second floor of the executive residence.

“Honestly, if they’re being critical of the cabinet pick, it’s not really about the cabinet pick,” Eudy said. “It’s about the guy who sleeps upstairs.”


Take the time to read the whole column.

Binker also writes about the scars of HB2 with a clear-eyed look at its politics that is, none-the-less, very human.

From that column:

“What would growth be if you got rid of the daggum thing? How many more jobs would there be?” Mac Holladay, an Atlanta economic development consultant, asked me earlier this month.

The fact that unemployment is down overall doesn’t mean spit to people who couldn’t find a job because the economy wasn’t quite good enough.

“What hurts more is I have to stand before you all begging please give me respect,” Candis Cox told the Senate Rules Committee as they pondered the compromise. The transgender woman and those in her community will surely be scarred by a year of having people talk about them and what they are rather than speaking to them and finding out who they are.

It’s not all bad news, though.

With any wound, pain and blood eventually give way to lessons learned. Yes, HB2 will leave a mark, real people — your friends and neighbors as well as some very nice folks you’ve never had the chance to meet — will feel its emotional and economic impact for a while. But maybe the next time North Carolina thinks about going out on a rickety tree limb, those scars will remind us of the past year and prod us to think more carefully.



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