Ben Pate ‘22
The NBA’s All-Star Weekend, last held in Charlotte in 1991, returned to the Queen City this past weekend after a long hiatus, bringing with it legendary athletes, excited fans, and unfortunate memories of North Carolina’s recent political history.
North Carolina’s Public Facilities Privacy and Security Act—better known as HB2 or “the Bathroom Bill”—was passed in March 2016 in response to a Charlotte city ordinance that added sexual orientation and gender identity to its list of protections against discrimination. Dr. Michael Bitzer, visiting political science professor and expert on NC politics, explained that Charlotte’s ordinance “set up an us-versus-them mentality between Charlotte and [NC capital] Raleigh.”
The state bill was designed to counteract the city’s ordinance, declaring municipal expansions of civil protections illegal without state approval. After Charlotte’s ordinance passed, the NC legislature called a special session and passed HB2, creating “a blanket ban on local non-discrimination acts,” according to Bitzer. This particular blanket, however, was aimed directly at Charlotte.
Among the first reactions to HB2 was the NBA, which pulled its 2017 All-Star Weekend out of Charlotte and moved it to New Orleans. Groups such as the NCAA also threatened to begin pulling events out of the state if the law was not changed, such that the economic effects of HB2 reached much further than the legislature could have predicted. Bitzer cites a report from the Charlotte Chamber of Commerce putting Charlotte’s losses alone due to HB2 at nearly $250 million.
However, Charlotte was certainly not the only city impacted by the bill; states such as California, Washington, and New York limited or banned travel by state employees to North Carolina while the bill was actively a law, and California and Washington continue to prevent all non-essential travel to the state. This national backlash ultimately drew even international attention to North Carolina, ultimately hurting the economy and the state’s reputation even more.
These economic impacts are not the only effects of HB2’s passage into law. While Charlotte was losing money, the state was also losing the support of many of its constituents. Matthew LeBar ‘19, Chair of the Center for Political Engagement, noted the loss of confidence many Davidson students and North Carolinians experienced in the wake of HB2: “[the law] makes a lot of people less friendly to NC politics and a little bit less at home in the state we go to school in.”
Additionally, the reaction towards the law in Charlotte for some was one of disgust. “Everyone [in Charlotte] was upset that the law was so clearly targeted at a distinct minority” explained Bryan Kirk ‘22, a Charlotte native.
On campus, Ellie Barlow ‘19, Queers & Allies’ resident specialist on HB2, noted Davidson administration’s quick reaction to the law, saying that “transgender people could use the restroom of their choice here at Davidson.” She added that Davidson students’ “behavior wasn’t really altered by the law because there was no enforcement of [HB2] to begin with.”
The outrage at the idea behind HB2 and its inception was rooted in the struggle for equality for its opponents. Bitzer explained that HB2 represents “a broader issue about basic, fundamental civil rights for individuals” in the LGBTQ+ community.
Amidst the backlash on every level from local to international, and with threats from the NCAA, NBA, and other organizations piling up, the legislature eventually decided to partially repeal HB2 in March of 2017. Shortly afterwards, the NBA announced the All-Star weekend would return to Charlotte for 2019.
While the North Carolina legislature did technically repeal and replace HB2, the replacement law still carries the same stipulation as HB2 did to begin with, albeit with a time limit: under the current law, municipalities may not pass their own anti-discrimination ordinances until 2020.
This repeal-that-isn’t ultimately has not done much in terms of overturning the most controversial aspects of the law, as the three year limit on new local anti-discrimination protections has been described as “reinforcing the worst aspects of [HB2]” by ACLU LGBT Project director James Esseks in a statement released following the new bill’s passage.. The deadline is the result of negotiations between NC Republicans, who strongly opposed doing anything to change HB2, and their Democratic counterparts who desired a full repeal.
The replacement deal was enough for the NCAA and NBA to remain in the state, and the NBA’s All-Star Weekend this past Friday through Sunday is an example of the impact of the legislature’s decision.
Looking to the future, Athletic Director Chris Clunie ‘06 is optimistic regarding the future of Charlotte and North Carolina. Regarding the return of All-Star Weekend, he explained: “I think it speaks to the growth of Charlotte…I think it speaks to the prospects and potential that Charlotte has shown and developed.”
Still, the tension originally caused by the bill lives on, as neither side is fully content with the outcome of the repeal of HB2. Bitzer recognized that HB2 “is very much endemic of the polarized politics… that our nation is currently confronting.”