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American Airlines, Apple, NBA denounce NC law ending LGBT protections

Roll called in Senate after Democrats walk out of session

Roll is called on the Senate floor during the second reading of House Bill 2. Senate Democrats walked off of the floor and were absent for the final vote Wednesday, March 23, 2016 in Raleigh, N.C.
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Roll is called on the Senate floor during the second reading of House Bill 2. Senate Democrats walked off of the floor and were absent for the final vote Wednesday, March 23, 2016 in Raleigh, N.C.

From American Airlines to Lowe’s, and from Apple to Google, big companies are pushing back against North Carolina’s new law invalidating Charlotte’s protections for LGBT individuals.

Sports organizations also said they’re weighing the new legislation, signed Wednesday by Gov. Pat McCrory, as they schedule events in the state.

The NBA, which is set to host its All-Star Game in Charlotte next year, said it is “deeply concerned that this discriminatory law runs counter to our guiding principles of equality and mutual respect.” The league said it doesn’t yet know what impact the law will have on its “ability to successfully host” the event.

The NCAA, which has men’s basketball tournament games planned in North Carolina in 2017 and 2018, said it is monitoring the situation. The Central Intercollegiate Athletic Association, the oldest African-American sports conference in the U.S., has hosted its annual basketball tournament in Charlotte since 2006 and said Friday it is also monitoring the situation.

And cable network ESPN, which has been considering Charlotte Motor Speedway among possible sites for its summer X Games, said it embracesdiversity and inclusion and will evaluate all of our options” as it seeks the next site for the extreme-sports event.

At a time when North Carolina is trying to recruit companies to expand and grow, some business leaders said the new measure will jeopardize employee recruitment and economic development.

“We believe no individual should be discriminated against because of gender identity or sexual orientation,” said Katie Cody, a spokeswoman for American Airlines, which has its second-biggest hub in Charlotte. “Laws that allow such discrimination go against our fundamental belief of equality and are bad for the economies of the states in which they are enacted.”

Facebook, which has a data center in Forest City, also chimed in.

“We are disappointed by the recent events in North Carolina,” spokesman Andy Stone said, in a statement. “As a company, Facebook is an open and vocal supporter of equality. We believe in ensuring the rights of LGBT individuals and oppose efforts that discriminate against people on the basis of their gender identity or sexual orientation.”

The impetus of Wednesday’s special session was a provision in Charlotte’s expanded nondiscrimination ordinance that would allow transgender individuals to use the bathroom that corresponds to the gender with which they identify. Critics of the Charlotte measure said it was “social engineering” to allow people born as biological males to enter women’s restrooms.

The new law prohibits any such bathroom flexibility, but it also will keep Charlotte and any other municipality from adding new protections for gays, lesbians or transgender individuals.

Ricky Diaz, a spokesman for McCrory’s re-election campaign, said Thursday: “Much of the feedback we’ve gotten from businesses has been positive. They’ve said the Charlotte City Council shouldn’t have passed this ordinance in the first place so we wouldn’t have to deal with it now.”

Mixed results in past

The business community in the state has taken stances on gay and lesbian issues in the past with mixed results. In the 1990s, business leaders in Charlotte helped unseat county commissioners who cut funds for the arts after the performance of “Angels in America,” which contained nudity and depicted homosexuality.

In 2012, corporations stayed largely silent on a constitutional amendment to ban marriage of same-sex couples, and the measure was approved by voters, only to be overturned in 2014 by the courts.

American Airlines has previously joined other major U.S. companies, including Wells Fargo, Apple and Microsoft, in signing a statement opposed to “anti-LGBT” legislation. The companies said equality in the workplace is a priority for fostering talent and innovation and that such state laws can stifle investment and economic growth.

Executives from PayPal joined McCrory at the Charlotte Chamber last week to announce the payments processor’s plans to hire 400 employees at a new operations center here. But on Thursday, the San Jose, Calif.-based company said it was “disappointed” by the new North Carolina law.

In a tweet, the company said it was “proud to champion LGBTQ equality in N. Carolina and around the world.”

The Charlotte Chamber has not taken a position on Charlotte’s specific nondiscrimination ordinance, but a spokesman Thursday cited a February letter to the Charlotte City Council stating that the chamber “opposes discrimination in all forms.”

Appeal to Moynihan

Marc Benioff, CEO of software company Salesforce, has been vocal about his support of LGBT rights. He told the Huffington Post that he plans to appeal to Bank of America CEO Brian Moynihan to publicly denounce the new law. Benioff couldn’t be reached for comment Thursday.

The Charlotte-based lender said it backs “public policies that support nondiscrimination,” adding: “Bank of America has been steadfast in our commitment to nondiscrimination and in our support for LGBT employees through progressive workplace policies and practices.”

Karen Cobb, spokeswoman for Mooresville-based Lowe’s, said the home improvement retailer “opposes any measure in any state that would encourage or allow discrimination.” Among big tech companies with North Carolina operations, Apple said it is disappointed McCrory signed the bill into law, and Google called the legislation “misguided and wrong.”

Last year in Indiana, a “Religious Freedom” law that critics said would make it easy for businesses to discriminate against gay and lesbian individuals spurred a national uproar. A similar controversy is brewing in Georgia, where Walt Disney Co. and its subsidiary movie studio Marvel are threatening to pull their film business from the state over a religious liberty bill.

NC Values Coalition, a conservative think tank supporting the new North Carolina measure, said in a statement Thursday that “corporations should be focused on turning a profit and caring for their customers,” instead of imposing their values on the rest of the state.

Christopher Chung, CEO of the Economic Development Partnership of North Carolina, said the organization that recruits new businesses to the state recognizes “the wide range of opinions on the new legislation, but as an organization that performs under contract with the state government, the EDPNC does not take positions on matters of public policy.”

NCAA weighs in

The LGBT law also raised questions about future sporting events in the state.

In a statement, the NCAA, the governing body for college athletics, said it will monitor “current events, which include issues surrounding diversity, in all cities bidding on NCAA championships and events, as well as cities that have already been named as future host sites.”

Future NCAA events scheduled in North Carolina include first- and second-round games in the men’s NCAA basketball tournament in Greensboro in 2017 and in Charlotte in 2018.

“It is our expectation that all people will be welcomed and treated with respect in cities that host our NCAA championships and events,” the NCAA said.

The NCAA was one of the first organizations to express concern about the religious freedom law last year in Indiana. The state later amended the law under pressure from business, civic and sports leaders.

Bank of America Stadium has in the past encouraged transgender men and women to use the facilities in which they feel the most comfortable. Carolina Panthers spokesman Steven Drummond said Thursday that position remains, though he declined to comment on specific legislation. BB&T BallPark and Charlotte Motor Speedway also allow transgender individuals to use the restroom of their gender identity.

Bad for business

Economist Lee Badgett, a Winston-Salem native, said corporations tend to tout cultures of nondiscrimination for competitive reasons, and they oppose policies that go against them.

“Businesses are worried about being able to recruit and retain the best employees, and laws like this are things they point to as making that harder,” said Badgett, a professor at the University of Massachusetts Amherst.

In a statement Wednesday night, Charlotte Mayor Jennifer Roberts said discrimination is not good for business and called the legislation a “bad bill for the Tar Heel State.”

“This legislation threatens to undermine the economic growth and prosperity of Charlotte and North Carolina,” Roberts said.

The Charlotte Regional Visitors Authority also expressed concern that the LGBT measure could weigh on tourism and hospitality, the Charlotte region’s fourth-largest industry, generating more than $6.3 billion a year.

“Because of the importance of the industry as an economic engine, we encourage further discussion on the issue to ensure the path forward represents the diverse voices of our region,” said Tom Murray, the agency’s CEO.

Joe Traigle, a management consultant, said he and his partner of 21 years moved to Charlotte from Louisiana 10 months ago because they thought it was a “welcoming and open environment for all people.”

They were pleased when the Charlotte City Council passed the ordinance and shocked by the legislature’s action Wednesday. Traigle said he is disappointed that the business community didn’t speak out earlier on the issue.

“Now they’re chasing a train going a thousand miles an hour,” he said.

Katherine Peralta: 704-358-5079, @katieperalta

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