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What does North Carolina’s HB2 compromise mean for LGBTQ rights?

March 30, 2017 at 6:40 PM EDT
North Carolina's state legislature overwhelmingly voted to replace its so-called "bathroom bill" on Thursday, after suffering a business and economic backlash from a law that many saw as discriminatory. How do people see the compromise deal? Hari Sreenivasan talks to North Carolina State Representative Darren Jackson and Cathryn Oakley, senior legislative counsel for Human Rights Campaign.
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JUDY WOODRUFF: Today, compromise came to North Carolina, on the heels of a long-running political controversy.

The state suffered a business and economic backlash from a law that many saw as discriminatory. North Carolina had lost out on music concerts, conventions and sporting events, and was facing a deadline of sorts from the NCAA.

Hari Sreenivasan reports.

MAN: House Bill 142 is adopted.

HARI SREENIVASAN: With that, North Carolina’s state legislature overwhelmingly voted to replace its so-called bathroom bill. The new bill was brokered by the state’s Democratic Governor Roy Cooper and Republican lawmakers.

GOV. ROY COOPER, D-N.C.: Today, we repeal House Bill 2 and we begin to end discrimination in North Carolina.

HARI SREENIVASAN: Ahead of the vote, members on both sides said they were ready to move on.

SCOTT STONE, (R), North Carolina State Representative: The time has come for us to get out from under the national spotlight for negative things.

HARI SREENIVASAN: Still, critics both inside and outside the chamber and said the measure is no compromise at all. The new bill repeals last year’s law, which, among other things, required transgender people use public bathrooms according to their gender at birth. But it leaves the Republican-dominated state legislature in charge of setting future policy on bathroom use.

And it continues to bar local municipalities from passing their own nondiscrimination laws on the issue until 2020.

GOV. ROY COOPER: I wish it were sooner than 2020. I really do. But while these additional protections may be temporarily delayed, they will not be forever denied.

HARI SREENIVASAN: But several Democrats and LGBT advocates said those provisions mean the new legislation is simply a repeal in name only.

MAN: It kicks HB-2 down the road to 2020, keeping most of the awful law on the books for someone else to deal with. This is not about returning us to the status quo. This isn’t about repealing HB-2. It does neither of those things.

HARI SREENIVASAN: Instead, they argue, it’s designed to appease organizations who boycotted North Carolina, and not members of the LGBT community. Today’s vote comes after the NCAA threatened to pull future college sports tournaments from the state through the year 2022 if it didn’t change the law.

The NCAA already had moved championship games to other states that were to be played in North Carolina this year. Indeed, members from both parties, including the House’s Democratic leader, said the economic implications can’t be ignored.

Still, others on the Republican side decried the new bill, and said the NCAA was wielding its influence inappropriately.

BEVERLY BOSWELL, (R), North Carolina State Representative: I refuse to bow to the NCAA’s dictates and demands. Thank you, sir.

HARI SREENIVASAN: It remains to be seen whether the new bill will prompt businesses and organizations to end their boycott of the state.

We get two takes now on today’s deal.

First, Darren Jackson is the House minority leader for the Democrats in North Carolina. He spoke in favor of it.

I talked with him a short time ago and began by asking why it was important to ask today, even if the bill wasn’t perfect.

DARREN JACKSON, (D), North Carolina State Representative: Well, the number one reason is to get rid of House Bill 2 and the stain that it has put on North Carolina as a state, the economic harm that it has done to the state. We just needed to move past that part of it and start making some steps forward.

And it was important to do that now, before more harm comes to the state.

HARI SREENIVASAN: You also noted that the NCAA, the ACC, the NBA, other sporting events might come back, and the ripple effects it has on all the service workers that work at these facilities.

A lot of critics even in the legislature say that you all are bending too much to the will of the NCAA, even heard one assemblyman say that perhaps you should replace the flags outside with the NCAA flag and a white flag.

DARREN JACKSON: I’m not repealing House Bill 2 because of pressure. We have used the pressure that has been brought to bear by other organizations and businesses to help us in our calls to repeal House Bill 2. So, I view their pressure as being helpful in the situation.

HARI SREENIVASAN: Is it a coincidence then that it is happening on the day where the NCAA — after we record this interview, about an hour or so after, they are going to have a press conference and they’re going to be deciding whether or not the NCAA comes back to North Carolina over the next few years?

DARREN JACKSON: Well, no, I don’t think it’s a coincidence at all.

The fact that they are making these decisions is what has driven the Republicans finally to the negotiating table, so that we could at least discuss this and try to work out a compromise.

HARI SREENIVASAN: LGBT groups, even some of your own members on the floor today said that this doesn’t go far enough, that it doesn’t offer statewide protection for the LGBT community, and, in fact, it even goes the other way, that it freezes local jurisdictions from setting up their greater protections until 2020.

So isn’t justice deferred justice denied?

DARREN JACKSON: No, I mean, those ordinances were already frozen by House Bill 2 permanently.

This provides a way forward starting in 2020, but also gives some relief immediately to municipalities who want to do these types of protections in their contracting with private businesses that want to do business in their cities. So, this will allow the cities to make a big step forward now, but even bigger step forward come 2020.

And, of course, you know, that puts a lot of pressure on the Democrats in the General Assembly to pick up seats in the 2018 election and maybe move this process forward, because what North Carolina really needs is statewide protections.

HARI SREENIVASAN: The governor also said that this is not the last step; it is the first step.

So, what is next? What else can you do to try to ensure that this community is protected?

DARREN JACKSON: Well, like I was talking about elections, we need to win more seats. We are in a superminority. So, I can file any bill I want to file, but it’s not going to get heard.

So, we need to take back a chamber of the General Assembly, and then we can introduce bills to push statewide protections. But the conversation has been started. There is no putting that genie back in the bottle. I mean, businesses may return to North Carolina, but they’re going to keep the pressure up for North Carolina to continue to make steps forward and allow people to be free from the discrimination in employment and public accommodations.

And we support that and we will be fighting with them right along. We just thought it was important to take a compromise that we could get it now to get rid of House Bill 2, so we could take that step forward. Even if it is a small step forward, and not as big a step as many people would have liked to take, we have gotten rid of House Bill 2. And that is the most important thing.

HARI SREENIVASAN: Darren Jackson, Democratic Assembly minority leader in North Carolina, thanks so much.

DARREN JACKSON: Thank you.

HARI SREENIVASAN: Multiple civil right groups, especially in the LGBTQ community, blasted this compromise.

Cathryn Oakley is the senior legislative counsel with the Human Rights Campaign.

I spoke with her from Raleigh. And I asked what she found wrong with the deal.

CATHRYN OAKLEY, Human Rights Campaign: Unfortunately, the legislation that passed today was the result of a backroom deal that was done without the consultation of the LGBTQ community or other civil rights communities.

And that was put together by the governor and Republican leadership. And they call it a compromise. They call it a repeal. But, unfortunately, what it is, is simply doubling down on the kind of discrimination that brought HB-2 to North Carolina in the first place.

HARI SREENIVASAN: Is it better that what was on the books?

CATHRYN OAKLEY: Well, HB-2 is the most egregious anti-LGBT law that has been passed into law in any state in the country. It was an incredibly egregious law that was very harmful.

Unfortunately, what really we needed to have happen today, with all of the pressure that came from today’s impending NCAA deadline, where the NCAA is going to announce where they are going to be awarding games through 2022, what needed to be done with that pressure was a full repeal of HB-2.

That is what the LGBTQ community needs and has been demanding for more than a year now. And, instead, what we got was something that continues to discriminate against LGBTQ people and continues to box LGBTQ people out of getting meaningful nondiscrimination protections.

In fact, there are will essentially be no nondiscrimination protections at all for at least four years. And even then, what will be allowed will be very limited and devoid of meaning for particularly transgender people.

So, it is very problematic that, instead of working with all of the pressure that was generated, working with the LGBT community, that, instead, the governor and leadership chose to go down this path that continues to perpetuate discrimination.

HARI SREENIVASAN: The governor said today — he sort of laid out the political reality of the landscape and said that this is a legislature that is a supermajority, not in his party. And, as I heard, and as you probably did in several floor speeches, there are lots of members of the legislature who hear from constituents, an overwhelming majority, who don’t even want HB-2 repealed.

So, what do you do in that context? Was this the possible vs. the goal or the ideal?

CATHRYN OAKLEY: Yes.

Well, you are absolutely right that there is a Republican supermajority. And that is how HB-2 came about in the first place, was that the Republicans decided this was a thing that they were doing, and they did it.

But the truth is, in terms of political reality, as you say, there are folks in the Republican Caucus who didn’t want to repeal HB-2. And so despite the fact that they had a supermajority, these folks were advocating for HB-2 to stay on the books because they thought it was a good law.

What that meant was, in order to pass anything, they needed to get Democratic support. And what we really needed to have happen was for the governor, who is someone who the LGBTQ community worked very hard to get elected, someone who many people put their hope in as being someone who would help repeal HB-2 and help protect the LGBTQ community, that instead of standing up for full appeal and saying that the only thing that Democrats will stand for is a full repeal, is the end of this incredibly discriminatory and unprecedented law, instead of saying that is the only thing Democrats would support, he continued to negotiate.

And, unfortunately, what we wound up with was something that, as I say, unfortunately continues to perpetuate the discrimination that HB-2 brought to North Carolina in the first place.

HARI SREENIVASAN: All right, Cathryn Oakley of Human Rights Campaign, thanks so much.

CATHRYN OAKLEY: It’s my pleasure.

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