Raleigh, N.C. — Hundreds of people who support a new state discrimination law made their position known Monday in a rally outside the State Capitol.
House Bill 2, which was signed into law last month, prohibits transgender people from using public restrooms that correspond to the gender with which they identify. It also created a statewide anti-discrimination standard for employment and public accommodations that excludes gays, lesbians and transgenders and blocks cities and counties from extending protections to the LGBT community.
The law has met with nationwide ridicule and withering criticism from business executives and performers in recent weeks. On Monday, for example, the global community of 1,700 Certified B Corporations said it would move its annual meetings this fall out of the state.
Wake County Commissioner John Burns also said during a work session that, because of the law, the county is no longer "in the hunt" for a company expansion that would have created hundreds of jobs, and 15 to 18 conventions that are booked for Raleigh "are teetering on the edge of withdrawing," which could cost as much as $24 million in lost economic impact.
"We’ve had people contacting our visitors bureau and economic development offices asking whether the people they’re going to send here will be safe," Burns said. "That’s not the right message for us to be sending the rest of the world. That’s not the kind of question we want to be answering."
Yet, House Bill 2 backers came out in droves on the south lawn of the Capitol to show that not everyone is opposed to the law.
Religious leaders and clergy from around the state often invoked prayer during the rally and praised Gov. Pat McCrory and the legislature for passing what they call a common-sense law that protects women and children from the possibility of sexual predators lurking in a public restroom.
"We want (lawmakers) to understand that there's more for them than is against them," said Rev. Ron Baity, pastor of Berean Baptist Church in Winston-Salem.
"I believe most North Carolinians support state lawmakers in what they did. It's unfortunate that Hollywood celebrities, corporations and sports groups fail to really understand what’s in the bill," said Rev. Mark Creech, executive director of the Christian Action League of North Carolina. "That smear campaign has resulted in unfounded criticisms of the law."
Across the street, opponents of the law held a smaller counter-protest, calling House Bill 2 a "hate law" and a smokescreen for limiting the ability of workers to file discrimination lawsuits in the state.
"They are using religion as a platform for their bigotry and their hatred," said Shane Thrapp of Triangle Families Against HB2.
"They're over there stoking the hate and fear of homosexuals in the bathroom," Eric Ellenberg said. "That's the tip of the iceberg. This law is about labor discrimination. The rest of the bill robs you and me of any rights under the law to challenge an unjust firing from your job."
There was a brief confrontation between the two groups, whose only point of agreement is that the issue is one of morality.
"It is a biblical principle that we are endorsing, that when God created us, he did not make mistakes. He created us male and female," Baity said.
Opponents question how religious leaders can encourage their congregations to welcome outcasts with open arms while actively encouraging a law that targets a minority group.
"It's incredibly frustrating. Jesus didn't go through his life and ministry singling out the outcasts and making them feel more like outcasts," said Justin Lee, executive director of the Gay Christian Network. "So here we have people who claim to be representing Jesus who are making outcasts feel even more like outcasts."
"Jesus did reach out to the outcasts, but he required those who would come to him to come to him with repentance. He required them to live according to God's commands," Creech said. "Real compassion and tolerance is standing up for what's right, and that's what we're doing here. We're standing up for what's right."
Civil rights groups and others opposed to the law are threatening to hold civil disobedience demonstrations, protests and other direct actions if lawmakers do not repeal the measure by next Thursday.