There’s a persistent strain of bad logic that breaks out every time Charlotte stands to lose business because of HB 2.
You probably first heard it a few weeks ago when PayPal pulled 400 jobs-to-be out of North Carolina in response to our new anti-LGBT law. Then, N.C. Senate leader Phil Berger and House Speaker Tim Moore tried to steer the criticism directly toward Jennifer Roberts and her “radical bathroom policy.”
Here’s the logic: Roberts and the Charlotte City Council recklessly passed an anti-discrimination bill that included a provision on bathrooms and sexual identity, forcing state lawmakers to overreact and pass HB 2. “The governor warned her,” Berger and Moore said, in a statement.
So HB 2? It’s the mayor’s fault.
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As blame-shifting goes, this is impressive. It’s like scolding the guy who honked his horn for getting shot by the road-rager.
Still, there’s a legitimate question hiding amid all this fault-finding: Didn’t the mayor know that passing Charlotte’s ordinance – or at least the bathroom provision – would result in a reaction from Raleigh? Surely she saw HB 2 coming.
“Not in the least,” Roberts told me this week.
Let’s go back to February, before Charlotte passed its ordinance. It was a time of dueling vows. Roberts wanted to make good on a campaign pledge to revive an ordinance that failed a year ago because of the bathroom provision. The governor promised action if it passed this time.
This being an election year – and with McCrory in an especially tight reelection race – Roberts must have known that at the least, the bathroom provision would get whacked by Republicans up the road.
Not necessarily, she insists.
First, she says, the ordinance wasn’t that outlandish. More than 200 cities and counties have such protections, including 17 of the 20 largest U.S. cities. Not having one made Charlotte stand out in the wrong way to businesses and talent considering our city.
Also, Roberts thought McCrory might heed the lesson of Indiana, where Gov. Mike Pence invited the nation’s scorn a year ago by signing an anti-LGBT religious liberty bill. “I didn’t believe the governor and legislature would put our reputation as a progressive state at risk,” Roberts says.
That was a miscalculation, but not an outrageous one when you consider that two Republican governors – Georgia’s Nathan Deal and South Dakota’s Dennis Daugaard – have done just what she thought McCrory would do. Each protected his state from a Hoosier repeat this year by vetoing anti-LGBT bills.
But McCrory and Republicans followed through on their threats, and they went big with a law that also yanked discrimination protections for gays and lesbians. To be clear, Roberts isn’t saying she wasn’t warned the legislature would do something. But she – and few others – expected the entirety of HB 2.
Of course, the backlash quickly followed, and PayPal legitimized it by pulling its 400 jobs out of Charlotte. Now concerts and conventions are bleeding away, too.
None of which brings joy to Charlotte’s mayor. She doesn’t want to see her city hurt by boycotts, especially the small businesses that benefit when a concert or convention comes to town. That’s why when she talks to performers or executives troubled by HB 2, she urges them to protest in different ways, such as donating proceeds to LGBT causes.
Folk-rock band Mumford & Sons decided to do just that last week after meeting with Roberts. But she also understands why others, including businesses with LGBT employees, might want to make a bigger statement.
In the end, it’s a matter of doing what you believe, whether it’s for values or for business. For Roberts, it was both. She’s not sorry she stood up for equality. She’s not to blame that others have, too.
Peter: @saintorange; firstname.lastname@example.org