NCAA brings news to celebrate – with a giant caveat

The Observer editorial board

NCAA women’s gymnastics competitions will be held in North Carolina.
NCAA women’s gymnastics competitions will be held in North Carolina. AP

Well, it worked.

The so-called repeal of HB2 brought the NCAA back to North Carolina. And that’s what it was all about for Gov. Roy Cooper, legislators, the NCAA and the business community.

The NCAA’s announcement Tuesday that it would bring 36 championship events to North Carolina through 2022 was uplifting news for the state. It was great for sports fans (ask Duke supporters about the difference between playing in Greensboro and playing in Greenville). And it will directly help the low-income workers who earn a small paycheck from the events.

The only people who aren’t celebrating are the LGBT residents (and those sympathetic to them), who are the odd ones out in this happy ending. North Carolina still sanctions discrimination against them, but the state didn’t consider that too big a price when it made a deal to get back in the NCAA’s good graces, and the prize came Tuesday.

NCAA first- and second-round men’s basketball games will be played in Greensboro in 2020 and in Raleigh in 2021. Greensboro will host women’s tournament games in 2019. The men’s or women’s Division I soccer championships will be held in Cary for four straight years beginning in 2018.

Only three states won more events than the 36 North Carolina nabbed.

That is genuinely good news, and North Carolina should celebrate it. It must do so, though, knowing that the shameful impulses that drove the passage of HB2 were kept alive with its repeal, and people who value anti-discrimination protections for gay people were willing to sacrifice them to get the games back. All sides held true to their values for a year until the NCAA dangled its carrot and threatened with its stick before a firm deadline.

Bathrooms got all the attention, but a more far-reaching part of HB2 was that it codified state-backed discrimination by blocking cities and others from passing ordinances ensuring that gays could not be denied a table, or a hotel room or a taxi because of whom they loved. Under HB 142, HB2 is technically repealed but that principal provision – freedom to discriminate and an inability to forbid it – remains.

HB 142 supporters point out that many other states provide no more protections than North Carolina. Even federal statute leaves sexual orientation out of its list of protected classes (though a federal judge this month ruled otherwise). That only goes to prove how far we have to go, that in 2017 a man or woman can still legally be fired or denied housing because of whom they love.

Gov. Cooper has said he will continue to fight for progress for the LGBT community. The pressure is off now though, of course, and even more so with the NCAA’s announcement. It is a certainty that the legislature will do nothing in the next couple of years to advance gay rights. The only question is whether, with its most-favored-nation status now restored, the state will try to chip away at those rights even more, penalty-free.