Governor backtracks after furious reaction to law

By Mark Berman

Opponents of House Bill 2 protest across the street from the North Carolina State Capitol in Raleigh, North Carolina. Photo / AP
Opponents of House Bill 2 protest across the street from the North Carolina State Capitol in Raleigh, North Carolina. Photo / AP

North Carolina Republican Governor Pat McCrory, responding to a backlash against the state's new law banning anti-discrimination protections for gay and transgender people, signed an executive order he said "expanded" the state's employment policy to include sexual orientation and gender identity.

He also said he would seek legislation restoring the right to sue for discrimination. However, McCrory stopped short of altering the bill's most high-profile provision mandating that transgender people use bathrooms that correspond only with the gender on their birth certificate.

In a videotaped message announcing the order, McCrory defended the state law as being needed to respond to what he called the "government overreach" of a Charlotte city ordinance that expanded civil rights protections for people based on sexual orientation and gender identity. He also said the issue had sparked what he called "selective outrage and hypocrisy".

Roy Cooper, the North Carolina Attorney-General, and multiple LGBT groups criticised McCrory's order as being a half-measure that left discrimination intact.

"Governor McCrory's executive order is a day late and a veto short," Cooper, a Democrat and McCrory's gubernatorial opponent this northern autumn, said. "The sweeping discrimination law he signed has already cost North Carolina hundreds of jobs and millions of dollars in revenue. I'm glad Governor McCrory has finally acknowledged the great damage his legislation has done, but he needs to do much more."

This law prompted intense backlash from LGBT groups and big businesses alike, with a host of major companies calling on the state to withdraw its proposal. The state law prohibits transgender people from using public bathrooms in schools and government facilities that don't match the gender on their birth certificate, and it also barred local governments from extending civil rights protections to gay and transgender people.

Two major companies - PayPal last week and today Deutsche Bank - announced that they would call off proposed expansions in North Carolina due to the new law.

The Charlotte Chamber of Commerce offered praise for McCrory's order, saying it was in favour of anything that promoted the city and state "as places that promote diversity, inclusiveness and equality".

"We applaud the governor's actions today which demonstrate that North Carolina is an open and welcoming state," the Charlotte Chamber of Commerce said. "We strongly encourage the leadership and members of the General Assembly to take quick action to the Governor's call to ensure citizens have the right to pursue claims of discrimination at the state level."

North Carolina Governor Pat McCrory. Photo / AP
North Carolina Governor Pat McCrory. Photo / AP

Republican state Representative Tim Moore, Speaker of the North Carolina House of Representatives, said that the legislation has "been unfairly reported and maligned by political activists" so far.

"Governor McCrory's executive order affirms the importance of the actions the General Assembly took in passing the Bathroom Bill to protect North Carolina citizens from extremists' efforts to undermine civility and normalcy in our everyday lives," Moore said.

The American Civil Liberties Union of North Carolina and other rights groups criticised McCrory's action for leaving intact controversial provisions - like the requirement that people can only use public restrooms matching the gender they were assigned at birth.

"Governor 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 stigmatises and mandates discrimination against gay and transgender people," Sarah Preston, acting executive director of the ACLU of North Carolina, said.

The ACLU and other groups filed against the legislation that called it tantamount to legalised discrimination. A spokesman for the ACLU said the order changes nothing and that the suit would proceed.

Last week, Bruce Springsteen announced that he was canceling a show in Greensboro, North Carolina, to "show solidarity for those freedom fighters" contesting the new law.

The law has come under consistent fire from LGBT rights groups and major companies including Apple, Google and American Airlines. It could also potentially cost the state major events like the next NBA All-Star Game, currently scheduled to be held in Charlotte.

- Washington Post

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