Less than two weeks before the General Assembly’s short session begins in Raleigh, about 250 opponents of House Bill 2 met Thursday to rally support for overturning the law.
The Charlotte event, held at the Sheraton hotel uptown, drew state and national leaders, as well as members of the city’s LGBT community. Some of the meeting focused on the logistics of their efforts.
But it also provided an opportunity for people to vent their frustrations at HB2, which overturned the Charlotte City Council’s attempt to create new legal protections for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people. The new law also mandates that people in public buildings must use the restroom that corresponds with the sex on their birth certificate.
Gov. Pat McCrory and HB2 supporters said the bathroom language is a “commonsense” way to uphold people’s expectations of privacy, as well as to protect the safety of women and girls. Opponents have said it is mean-spirited, and a key part of what’s been called the “most anti-LGBT legislation” in the country.
McCrory, a Charlotte Republican, issued an executive order Tuesday to quiet some of the controversy that has engulfed the state. One of the most significant parts of his order is to include new protections for some state employees based on sexual orientation and gender identity.
But opponents said the move was essentially meaningless, and it left HB2 intact.
Charlotte City Council member Al Austin, who voted for the nondiscrimination ordinance in February, said McCrory’s executive order was “a crack in the conservative universe” against HB2.
In a rousing speech, Austin compared the current struggle over LGBT protections to the civil rights movement, and quoted Jesse Jackson, who said at the 1988 Democratic National Convention to “keep hope alive.”
He said if supporters do likewise, they will “rip that universe apart.”
Mayor Jennifer Roberts told the crowd that “the values of HB2 are not Charlotte’s values.”
She did not speak about McCrory’s executive order, which she had praised earlier this week. She urged the crowd to tell visitors that Charlotte shouldn’t be “punished for standing up for equality.”
Roberts has been an outspoken critic of HB2 but has become more diplomatic about the issue recently. The city has been working with the Charlotte Chamber about sending Republican leaders in Raleigh a more conciliatory message.
Other speakers at Thursday event were not cautious.
Chad Griffin, president of the Human Rights Campaign, blasted McCrory.
“The governor is lying to the public every single day,” he said.
Griffin said the fear over transgender people in bathrooms is overblown. He said there are no instances of transgender individuals being arrested for anything improper in North Carolina bathrooms.
“I can identify more U.S. senators who have been arrested in bathrooms,” he said. “I don’t see the governor passing laws to ban senators from bathrooms.”