About 700 supporters of the new North Carolina law limiting LGBT protections against discrimination spread across the Capitol lawn Monday to cheer Gov. Pat McCrory and the law’s legislative champions.
Speakers repeatedly urged the crowd to applaud McCrory, Lt. Gov. Dan Forest, legislative leaders and supportive lawmakers. They also had sharp rebukes for PayPal, the online payments company that canceled its plans to expand in Charlotte; for Bruce Springsteen, who canceled a Greensboro concert in protest; and for the businesses that have publicly opposed the law.
The rally focused only on the part of the law that nullified a Charlotte ordinance that would have allowed people to choose bathrooms that correspond to their gender identity.
The law, commonly called House Bill 2 or HB2, was needed to protect the privacy and safety of women and girls in bathrooms and locker rooms, supporters said. “Such an ordinance creates a loophole sexual predators can exploit,” said the Rev. Mark Creech, executive director of the Christian Action League of North Carolina, as members of the crowd waved signs saying “Keep kids safe.”
There was no mention of the parts of the law that void municipal LGBT nondiscrimination ordinances, prevent municipalities from requiring contractors to pay workers more than the minimum wage and bar workers from filing discrimination lawsuits in state court.
Opposition to the bill is part of “a carefully manufactured campaign,” said John Rustin, head of the NC Family Policy Council.
The rally also drew about two dozen counter-protesters who stood across the street and whose chants could be heard in the rally crowd.
Some of the speeches steered directly into political campaign territory, underscoring the prominent role HB2 is already playing this election year.
Sen. Buck Newton, a Republican from Wilson and a candidate for state attorney general, had the crowd booing Democratic Attorney General Roy Cooper, who is running for governor.
Cooper will not defend the law against a suit brought by the ACLU and others.
“Mr. Cooper time and time again has refused to defend you, the people of North Carolina,” Newton said, because “he’s too interested in running for office.”
Cooper has called for repealing the law.
“Because Governor McCrory has put his partisan political agenda above all else and signed House Bill 2 into law, our state is losing hundreds of good jobs and millions of dollars in revenue,” Cooper campaign spokesman Jamal Little said later Monday. “North Carolina is better than this. We need a governor who will attract jobs to our state and grow our economy, not promote a partisan agenda.”
Newton said his opponent in the attorney general’s race, Democrat Josh Stein of Raleigh, would be another Cooper.
“It’s time that we had an attorney general who will stand up and fight for the people of this state,” Newton said.
Contacted later Monday, Stein said he wants to be an attorney general who protects all people in the state. “The attorney general of North Carolina should protect all people from discrimination, not champion laws that promote it.”
Michael Lindsay of Raleigh, an opponent of the law, tried to stand with the rally crowd while holding a sign that said, “Rebranding North Carolina as a State of Hate.” He was led across the street by law enforcement.
Lindsay said later that the law “is about politics” and meant to create an issue that will appeal to the Republican base. But it is damaging the state’s brand, he said. “They’re chasing jobs away right and left right now,” he said.
Speakers repeated some common themes supporting HB2 — that it’s a common-sense law, that the media aren’t telling the truth about it, that corporations are bullying the state.
“I’m not concerned about political correctness,” said Bishop Patrick Wooden of the Upper Room Church of God in Christ in Raleigh. “Everybody knows that a transgendered woman is a man. And everybody knows that a transgendered man is a woman. And we have allowed common sense to go out of the window in the name of political correctness.”
Ron Baity, a Baptist preacher and head of Return America, said people who don’t know who they are should go to the library and get a book on anatomy.
“God made no mistake when he created us,” he said.
Support for the law springs from “a misunderstanding of transgender folks and of the LGBT community as a whole,” Justin Lee, executive director of the Gay Christian Network, said in an interview later.
“It is not my responsibility as a Christian to tell you how you should be living your life,” he said. “It is my responsibility as a Christian to live my life the way I believe God wants me to, and to show you grace, even if we disagree. I think that is where these Christians are dropping the ball, the ones that support HB2.”