Business

For businesses backing HB2, privacy and religious freedom are focal points

ogaines@charlotteobserver.com

Before North Carolina’s House Bill 2 passed, Lighthouse Electric owner Judy Hale said she and her husband were considering moving the electrical contracting business from Charlotte to Fort Mill because they opposed Charlotte’s newly passed nondiscrimination ordinance.

Specifically, Hale found the transgender bathroom part particularly troubling.

“I myself don’t want to have to worry whether a man is coming into the same bathroom. It’s a privacy issue,” Hale said. “I don’t want to think I can’t use a public restroom facility, and I know all too many women who have said the same thing.”

Businesses that support HB2, like the legislators who ushered the measure into law, largely focus on its bathroom provision, which mandates that transgender people use the bathroom of the gender that corresponds with their birth certificate instead of the gender with which they identify, as the Charlotte ordinance would have allowed.

After House Bill 2 passed on March 23, scores of major corporations, performing artists, colleges and religious institutions came out against the measure, which they say discriminates against LGBT individuals.

A smaller but equally passionate smattering of North Carolina businesses have come out in favor of the measure, saying it lets business owners make their own decisions. Many of them appear on KeepNCSafe.org’s list of businesses that support the measure. Over 300 favor it, the group says, though it only gives the names of 68 because of “vocal threats and bullying from the LGBT community.”

Twin brothers David and Jason Benham own Benham Real Estate in Concord and say they have gotten “nothing but support in the marketplace” after voicing their position on HB2. The only resistance they’ve seen has come on social media.

Echoing the description Gov. Pat McCrory uses, the Benhams call HB2 “common sense.”

“It’s common sense not to allow men in women’s restrooms. It’s also common sense not to force business owners to participate in expressive events that are against their religious beliefs. The First Amendment protects our freedom not to participate in speech and events that promote things we don’t believe,” the two said in an emailed statement to the Observer.

The Benham brothers are outspoken conservative activists who in 2014 had their HGTV show canceled because of a video that surfaced showing David Benham pushing an anti-homosexuality agenda.

Through a spokeswoman, they declined to speak with the Observer in person.

When HB2 was passed in March, the Charlotte Christian Chamber lauded Gov. Pat McCrory and the General Assembly for giving the business community the freedom to make their own decisions about bathroom facilities and non-discrimination policies.

“We encourage all our members to provide goods and services with Christian integrity and Biblical values,” the organization said in a statement in late March. Pat Baldridge, president of the Christian Chamber, declined an interview.

The bathroom provision is just one part of HB2, which struck down the non-discrimination ordinance Charlotte passed in February. Under HB2, non-discrimination protection is guaranteed to people based on their biological sex, not their sexual orientation and gender identity, which Charlotte’s ordinance would have provided.

A privacy issue

Lighthouse Electric’s Hale said she has gotten nothing but support from people she works with after voicing her support for House Bill 2.

Hale also said she’s read through HB2 several times to understand it. The law, she said, hasn’t taken any existing rights away as they pertain to the bathroom provision.

“We’re not discriminating against anybody,” she said, adding that transgender people make up a small portion of the population. “Why would you change something for such a small percentage, when you have too many women who don’t want to be put in harm’s way?”

Bill Huffstetler also says he’s worried about safety. He owns the Collision Center of Stanly County in Albemarle, which has been in business for a decade. His wife Jana added her name and the company’s to the KeepNCSafe.org list.

Huffstetler also said he hasn’t received any customer backlash for his position.

“It’s a security issue about who goes in where. That’s what I feel like. If I had a young daughter, I would want to know who is in the restroom with her,” Huffstetler said.

But even though he favors HB 2, Huffstetler said he believes that nondiscrimination protection should be extended to LGBT people – something HB2 does not guarantee.

“I don’t think anybody should be discriminated against for their lifestyle,” Huffstetler said.

North Carolina repealed HB2 in 2017 but left intact some of its provisions. But with Charlotte’s reputation tainted, the city is still paying to market itself to visitors.

Katherine Peralta: 704-358-5079, @katieperalta

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