The NAACP on Friday urged religious conferences, athletic events and musicians to avoid North Carolina as part of a national boycott protesting the state’s conservative policies including a law limiting LGBT protections.
It was the first step in a national boycott that could expand to include other economic and tourism measures, according to a resolution approved by the group’s national board. The organization stopped short of telling its members to cease all travel and spending in the state – which has been a component of previous boycotts elsewhere.
“Right now in the state of North Carolina we have children – Dear God, children! – who are being imperiled, who face the prospect of being bullied as a consequence of politicians using them as political pawns while we talk about bathrooms,” said the NAACP’s national president, Cornell Brooks.
His comments come two days after Republican President Donald Trump’s administration rescinded federal guidance that public schools nationwide should allow transgender students to use restrooms that match their gender identity.
The Rev. William Barber, who leads the state’s NAACP chapter, proposed the boycott late last year after a deal fell apart to repeal the North Carolina law best known for requiring transgender people to use restrooms corresponding to the sex on their birth certificate in public buildings. The law, often referred to as House Bill 2 or HB2, also excludes gender identity and sexual orientation from statewide antidiscrimination protections.
But Barber stressed the boycott would also pressure the Republican-controlled legislature over efforts to limit the new Democratic governor’s power as well as ongoing legal battles over voting rights and how electoral districts are drawn.
“What has happened in North Carolina makes this state a battleground … for the soul of America,” said Barber, who has drawn thousands to rallies protesting conservative policies in recent years.
The NAACP was part of a coalition that successfully sued to overturn much of a 2013 North Carolina elections law requiring photo ID from voters who cast ballots in person. A federal appeals court said it disproportionately targeted black voters. Republicans have appealed to the U.S. Supreme Court.
Republican Senate leader Phil Berger called on Democratic Gov. Roy Cooper to “condemn William Barber’s attempt to inflict economic harm on our citizens, and work toward a reasonable compromise that keeps men out of women’s bathrooms.”
Asked about the boycott, Cooper’s spokesman Ford Porter said in an email: “While Governor Cooper continues to urge business to come to North Carolina in spite of HB2, Republican legislative leaders need to stop holding our economy hostage to this disastrous law.”
The NAACP’s boycott resolution says the group won’t hold future national meetings in North Carolina and urged other groups to take their business elsewhere, too. The resolution says the organization could take other steps, such as urging the divestiture of North Carolina-related investments.
Brooks declined to offer further specifics or a timetable for deciding on whether to escalate the effort, but suggested the group’s previous boycotts could serve as a model.
The NAACP boycotted South Carolina for 15 years over flying the Confederate battle flag on State House grounds. When that boycott was approved, the group urged all of its members nationwide to avoid visiting or spending money in the state. The flag was removed in 2015.
Already, House Bill 2 has caused numerous conventions, concerts and sporting events to pull out of North Carolina, depriving it of hundreds of millions of dollars in economic impact. The state also lost several large-scale business projects with hundreds of jobs because of the law.
The NAACP’s announcement comes as Charlotte hosts scores of students and alumni from historically black colleges and universities as part of the men’s and women’s CIAA basketball tournaments. The conference has moved other athletic events from the state, but said late last year that time constraints and contractual obligations made it too difficult to move the basketball games. The CIAA’s basketball tournaments brought an estimated $56 million to the city in 2015, according to local tourism officials.