Charlotte Chamber: Let’s hit ‘reset’ on HB2, LGBT ordinance

Charlotte Chamber Chairman Ned Curran speaking Sunday, Sept. 18, 2016, about the need to hit “reset” on HB2 and the city’s LGBT ordinance.
Charlotte Chamber Chairman Ned Curran speaking Sunday, Sept. 18, 2016, about the need to hit “reset” on HB2 and the city’s LGBT ordinance.

The Charlotte Chamber, hospitality and tourism leaders called Sunday for the city of Charlotte and state leaders to repeal controversial laws that have thrust the state into the national spotlight and cost North Carolina high profile sports games, corporate expansions and concerts.

And, they said, there’s still a glimmer of hope Charlotte and North Carolina could win back some of the canceled athletic events if they act quickly.

“This is not about politics. This is not about who’s right and who’s wrong,” said Vinay Patel, CEO of SREE Hotels and a board member of the North Carolina Restaurant & Lodging Association. “We’ve been caught in a crossfire. … We’re in a crisis, and this is the time to take action.”

Gov. Pat McCrory’s office said last week that he will call lawmakers into session this week to repeal House Bill 2 – if Charlotte City Council goes first and drops the city’s nondiscrimination ordinance that prompted state legislation. The state law, which limits local nondiscrimination protections for LGBT individuals and mandates transgender people use the bathroom on their birth certificate in schools and government buildings, has sparked numerous cancellations from groups that oppose HB2.

Charlotte’s ordinance, which was nullified before it took effect, would have expanded nondiscrimination protections for LGBT people in the city and would have allowed transgender individuals to use the bathroom of the gender with which they identify.

Bob Morgan, CEO of the Charlotte Chamber, acknowledged that repealing both the city ordinance and HB2 would likely anger people on both sides.

“Clearly, it will be unsatisfying to folks on both sides of this issue,” said Morgan. But he warned that if Charlotte City Council doesn’t repeal the nondiscrimination ordinance, the city “will dig our hole deeper with the rest of the state.”

Charlotte City Council is set to meet Monday. It’s not clear yet whether there are enough votes in the 11-member body to repeal the ordinance, or to override a veto by Mayor Jennifer Roberts.

“Repealing Charlotte’s ordinance would be a step backward for equality, inclusion and fairness,” Simone Bell, the Southern Regional Director for Lambda Legal, said in a statement Sunday.

City Council was in a similar position in May, when Republican council member Kenny Smith asked that his colleagues repeal its ordinance in what he said would have been an olive branch to Raleigh.

That effort was defeated 7-4.

On Friday afternoon, chamber officials met with Roberts, Republican council member Ed Driggs and Democrats James Mitchell and Vi Lyles to discuss the compromise.

In May, Mitchell and Lyles voted against the repeal effort. Lyles, the mayor pro tem, was especially adamant that she stood with the LGBT community 100 percent.

But the inclusion of Mitchell and Lyles in the Friday meeting is a sign that they are considered by the chamber and Republicans as crucial swing votes.

The supporters of Charlotte’s expanded nondiscrimination ordinance believe the city did the right thing when it gave legal protections in February to the LGBT community. Repealing that ordinance could lead to the end of HB2, but it would also leave gay, lesbian and transgender individuals with no protection against discrimination in places of public accommodation.

The council needs seven votes to override a possible veto by Roberts.

Repealing the ordinance is also difficult due to the council’s rules.

The item is not on Monday’s zoning meeting agenda. Roberts could place it on the agenda, but that is unlikely. Interim City Manager Ron Kimble also could place it on the agenda.

Only a unanimous vote by council will allow a vote to take place. A majority vote would place it on the next week’s agenda.

Charlotte Chamber Chairman Ned Curran, CEO of Ballantyne developer Bissell, made the time before March 23, when the N.C. General Assembly passed HB2 in a specially convened, one-day session, sound like a distant memory.

“If you think back to those days, we were strong from an economic standpoint, strong from a sports entertainment standpoint,” said Curran. Since then, PayPal canceled a 400-job expansion in Charlotte, the NBA moved its 2017 All-Star Game to New Orleans, the ACC moved its football championship from the city, the NCAA removed seven championship games scheduled for this year from North Carolina and entertainers including Bruce Springsteen have canceled shows.

“This has the effect of a reset, if you will,” Curran said of the proposed double repeal. “Let’s not miss this opportunity to repeal HB2.”

It might not be too late to get the lost ACC football championship game in Charlotte back, said Will Webb, executive director of the Charlotte Sports Foundation. The game was scheduled for Dec. 3 at Bank of America Stadium, and was expected to draw tens of thousands of fans at an otherwise slow time for travel to the city.

Webb noted that the ACC hasn’t announced an alternate location for the game, which took months of planning to arrange, from reserving hotel rooms to lining up sponsors. If HB2 stays on the books, Webb said he fears what events might pull out next.

“We don’t know what the next shoe (to drop) is,” said Webb. “What’s the next one?”

It’s possible, however, that the NCAA or NBA might not bring their games back to Charlotte if they felt Charlotte was coerced into dropping its legal protections for the LGBT community.

The NCAA has asked cities that would like to bid on future championship events whether they provide an inclusive environment and what protections they have for minorities. Charlotte might not meet those requirements, even if HB2 is repealed.

The governor’s race is also a factor in the city’s decision.

If Democrat Roy Cooper defeats McCrory in November, City Council could pass a new nondiscrimination ordinance.

The General Assembly could then pass a new HB2 that would nullify it. But Cooper could veto that bill.

Supporters of the Charlotte ordinance were skeptical Sunday.

“The last-minute blame game and antics from Pat McCrory and cronies are a weak attempt to deflect blame that the governor alone should have,” said Chris Sgro, executive director of Equality NC and a member of the N.C. House.

Ely Portillo: 704-358-5041, @ESPortillo