Raleigh, N.C. — As dozens of Latino ministers from across North Carolina prayed with lawmakers in Raleigh on Tuesday and urged them to remain committed to House Bill 2, opponents of the controversial state law linked it to Sunday's mass shooting in Orlando, Fla.
House Bill 2, which the legislature passed in a one-day emergency session in March to head off a transgender nondiscrimination ordinance in Charlotte, requires that people use public bathrooms that correspond to their birth gender. The law also created a statewide nondiscrimination policy that doesn't cover gay and transgender people and prohibits cities and counties from extending such protections to them.
The law has sparked a nationwide debate over LGBT rights – the U.S. Department of Justice has sued the state, alleging the law violates the civil rights of transgender state workers and students – and bathroom safety.
Some lawmakers have recently discussed rolling back portions of the law, and the North Carolina Values Coalition organized the group of Latino faith leaders to urge lawmakers not to waver in their support of it.
LGBT advocates decried the timing of the effort, noting that it comes two days after 49 people were killed in a gay nightclub in Orlando in the worst mass shooting in U.S. history.
"This is a tragedy that all Americans face, but it was a direct attack on the LGBT community," said Rep. Chris Sgro, D-Guilford. "The only way that we're going to stop more attacks like that is to stop having bad policy like HB2, stop having negligent rhetoric like we had around it and combat homophobia and trans-phobia in every walk of life."
"Have they no shame? Have they no empathy? It is unconscionable that, as the nation mourns the 49 victims of the horrific massacre in Orlando, anti-equality activists in North Carolina are urging lawmakers to support one of the most extreme anti-LGBTQ laws in the country," JoDee Winterhof, senior vice president for policy and political affairs for LGBT advocacy group Human Rights Campaign, said in a statement. "Only a deep-seated hatred could drive a decision to attack a community while it is in mourning."
"The way the events played out, the horrific tragedy in Orlando sort of brought out to me the immediate need to repeal House Bill 2 because it's sort of a hate-filled, shameful piece of legislation that doesn't reflect North Carolina values," said Rep. Pricey Harrison, D-Guilford.
Sgro, the executive director of LGBT advocacy group Equality NC, said he was especially offended by the gathering because the majority of victims in the Orlando shooting were gay Latino men.
The ministers countered that there is no link between House Bill 2 and the Orlando shooting, which they said was a case of terrorism. The group even opened a news conference with a prayer for the Orlando victims.
"We're not here against the gay community. We're not discussing anything but safety in the bathrooms, that's it, in the locker rooms, the showers, everywhere that people go," said Rev. Maudia Melendez, executive director of Jesus Ministry Inc. in Charlotte.
Lt. Gov. Dan Forest fired back at attempts to link the shootings to the North Carolina law.
"How can you blame them for a crazy person's murderous attack? It's shameful to do that," Forest said.
"HB2 has to do with common sense," said Rev. Dan Rodriguez, chaplain of Calvary Jail Ministries in Winston-Salem.