Throughout the debate over House Bill 2, a number of well-known people without North Carolina ties have spoken out against the controversial measure. Former talk show host Montel Williams is one of them, and he calls the law “eerily similar to Jim Crow.”
Previously a naval intelligence officer, Williams has recently turned to activism, speaking out against similar laws he describes as discriminatory in Arizona, Indiana, Arkansas, South Dakota, Georgia and Missouri.
“I remember when I had to use a different bathroom in many parts of the country,” Williams told the Observer Monday, via Twitter direct message. He was born in 1956.
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“At its core, HB 2 seeks to marginalize an entire class of people under Part I, and under Parts II-III, creates a climate where you could be denied service for being a woman, where I could be denied service for being black, disabled, a veteran without any state law recourse to remedy it,” said Williams, who was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis in 1999.
Williams, who grew up in Baltimore and lives in New York City, said he does not have any close North Carolina ties. But he added that he’s always thought the state is a “wonderful place to visit.” His last trip to the state was for the American Legion National Convention in Charlotte in 2014.
“I’ve never felt unwelcome at all, much less discriminated against – thus my frustration with (Gov. Pat) McCrory, (Sen. Phil) Berger and (House Speaker Tim) Moore – they are ruining a brand that NC has earned and deserves as a hospitable place, a great place to live, a great place to visit where all are welcome,” Williams said.
House Bill 2 sets a statewide definition of protected classes of citizens that excludes sexual orientation and gender identity. It also struck down a Charlotte ordinance that would have allowed transgender people to use the bathroom of the gender with which they identify.
A full repeal of House Bill 2, Williams said, is the “only way to heal the wounds and save NC’s reputation.”
Last week, Williams sent a cake to N.C. House Majority Leader Mike Hager following a Twitter debate over House Bill 2. The cake was frosted with “#lovewins” and “#repealHB2.”
“You can expect more (activism.) How exactly, who knows. I think you can eventually expect a visit to Raleigh,” Williams said.
Williams hosted a national TV talk show bearing his name from 1991 to 2008. Recently, he was on the campaign trail supporting Republican candidate John Kasich, though Williams said he is a registered independent.