There’s a new opportunity for compromise on HB2.
It involves Charlotte City Council members making a symbolic gesture that risks alienating the LGBT community the council is trying to protect from discrimination.
It also involves council members trusting Republicans in Raleigh who have done very little to earn that trust.
What could go wrong?
Charlotte’s move, according to sources: Rescind the anti-discrimination ordinance the city passed in February, along with others that have been rendered invalid by state law. Council members could call it a “cleaning up” of ordinances that have no power. That’s better politically than calling it a repeal.
The General Assembly’s corresponding move: Repeal and replace HB2 – or at least key parts of it. The replacement could take several forms. One possibility is to allow cities to craft ordinances making sexual orientation a protected class, as Charlotte did, so long as local voters approved the measure in a referendum. Republicans could say they’re letting citizens make the choice, not “radical” city leaders, a concept that could soothe at least some conservative voters back home.
The compromise is not a formal deal. It’s the product of discussions that began with council members who want to save Charlotte from HB2 boycotts – including the 2017 NBA All-Star Game – without abandoning protections against discrimination for the city’s gays and lesbians. Republican N.C. legislators have been willing to talk.
As the Observer reported last week, four council members met with lawmakers last week in Raleigh. The talks did not stop there, people on both sides tell the editorial board, but the council probably needs to take action by its meeting Monday. That would give lawmakers a chance to respond before their short session ends next month.
An important note: The compromise doesn’t involve bathrooms and gender identity. In fact, the opening for a compromise became possible when the McCrory administration and U.S. Department of Justice exchanged lawsuits over the bathroom provision in HB2. Those lawsuits took the most contentious element of HB2 – bathrooms – out of the conversation. The courts will decide that issue now, not HB2 supporters or opponents.
HB2 is about much more than bathrooms, of course. The law also removed other anti-discrimination protections, including those in Charlotte’s ordinance. It’s the whole of HB2 that prompted a steady stream of businesses, performers and conventions to pull out of Charlotte and other N.C. cities.
A compromise could change that, but there are challenges that could scuttle any deal. For starters, council members would have to make the first move. Why? Republican legislators may be losing the PR campaign over HB2, but they are rooted in their stubbornness not to bow in any way to the cities they govern. Especially in this fight.
Another obstacle: Though Charlotte’s non-discrimination ordinance has already been made null and void by HB2, LGBT advocates warn that rescinding it would send the wrong message about discrimination.
Finally, some council members simply don’t trust N.C. lawmakers to follow through on their end of the deal. As of now, those lawmakers aren’t even offering a concrete deal, just the assurance that they’ll take the matter up.
But even if lawmakers did deliver, is the compromise a good one? Not if it’s only offering Charlotte a referendum on discrimination protections. Equality for minorities shouldn’t be put in the hands of the majority.
Charlotte should be grateful to leaders who are searching for ways to mitigate the economic damage of HB2. But that solution needs to ensure the protections the city once offered gays and lesbians, or it’s not a deal worth making.