54 arrested in HB2 protests as lawmakers return to Raleigh
Posted April 25, 2016
Updated April 26, 2016
Raleigh, N.C. — State lawmakers returned to Raleigh on Monday night to formally begin their 2016 legislative session, but only after a day of sound and fury over action the lawmakers took a month ago.
Authorities said 54 people were arrested during a House Bill 2 protest at the Legislative Building that attracted hundreds of people to an earlier sit-in. The law, which was enacted last month, prevents discrimination protections from being extended to gay and transgender people and prohibits transgender people from using the public bathroom that aligns with their gender identity.
Protesters prayed, sang civil rights songs and listened to exhortations from Rev. William Barber, state president of the NAACP, as they loudly called for a repeal to the law.
"This movement is the people's movement," Barber told cheering supporters. "When it comes to fighting homophobia and fear, we shall not be moved. When it comes to protecting workers, we shall not be moved."
The law also bars cities from setting their own minimum wage and prevents workers from suing in state court for job discrimination.
Barber said the bill uses fear of transgender people as a political tool.
"Now I am fearful, because you are forcing me to go into a restroom that does not match what I am," transgender woman Debra Hopkins said during an afternoon rally.
House Speaker Tim Moore said the General Assembly won't repeal House Bill 2 "based on circumstances right now," and he wouldn't say whether a bill filed Monday morning to repeal the measure would get a hearing.
"I certainly see no harm in making changes to make it very clear that folks have access to the state courts for discrimination claims. As far as an outright repeal, that's not something we're taking about right now," Moore told reporters.
He noted that House Bill 2 creates the first nondiscrimination law in North Carolina and simply mirrors federal law by excluding sexual orientation and gender identity as protected classifications.
"What we've done is taken the federal law and followed that. Now, are there discussions down the road, years down, who knows?" he said. "I'll say this: I don't think anybody should be discriminated against."
When asked about the economic impact the law is having on the state – singers Demi Lovato and Nick Jonas became the latest to cancel concerts in North Carolina – Moore blamed some groups that he said are encouraging a boycott of the state.
"I don't think we should kowtow to bullying on this. I think we should stand for what we think is right," he said. "The rhetoric just needs to be dialed down because it's just not good for North Carolina."
Rep. Larry Hall, D-Durham, said the damage from House Bill 2 is already done, pointing to those who have spoken out against it around the country.
"It's cost us thousands of jobs, millions of dollars, and there is not a sign it is going to cease anytime soon," Hall said.
A final wave of protesters entered House Speaker Tim Moore's outer office but refused to leave, leading to 18 arrests. Most were led off quietly, but one woman chanted: "Forward together, not one step back!"
Another 36 sitting on the floor or in chairs outside Moore's closed office were arrested after they failed to leave the Legislative Building after it closed for the night. All 54 would be charged with second-degree trespassing and for either violating building rules or the fire code, Acting General Assembly Police Chief Martin Brock said. One also faces a resisting arrest charge, he said.
'Stand strong,' say HB2 supporters
Earlier in the day, supporters of House Bill 2 put on a similar show of force as the protesters, as more than 1,000 gathered on Halifax Mall north of the legislative complex to urge lawmakers to "stand strong" in the face of growing opposition to the measure.
"Legislators, stand strong, and governor, stand strong," said David Benham, whose HGTV show with his twin brother was canceled because of their opposition to same-sex marriage.
"House Bill 2 is about restoring common sense in the state and recognizing there are differences between men and women and we don’t want to violate privacy and safety," said Tami Fitzgerald, executive director of the North Carolina Values Coalition, part of the Keep NC Safe group that organized the rally.
Several Republican lawmakers, including House Speaker Tim Moore, thanked the hundreds of people who stood for more than an hour in 80-degree weather for their support.
"The battle is about to be joined," said Rep. Paul Stam, R-Wake. "They're five to one against us as far as their lobbyists are concerned, but we have the people with us and we have the weapons to win."
Rep. Dan Bishop, R-Mecklenburg, one of the lead sponsors of House Bill 2, blamed the turmoil on the Charlotte City Council, which passed a transgender bathroom ordinance in February, and national media, calling criticism of the law "a dishonest, media-fueled ideological carpet bombing."
"This form of ideological activism is unhinged. It is dangerous. It must be rejected," Bishop said. "What you have not seen reported is what do the people of North Carolina believe."
Meanwhile, Democratic legislative leaders said it is House Bill 2 that must be rejected, saying it continues to harm North Carolina's economy and has tarnished the state's progressive reputation.
"This short session is the one opportunity for North Carolina to stem the reputational harm that will be long-lasting," Senate Minority Leader Dan Blue said. "(Employers) they see this bill as what is – hostile to employees and a productive work environment."
Blue, D-Wake, cited a report from the left-leaning Center for American Progress that said North Carolina is already at risk to lose $568 million in economic activity from lost business expansions, conventions, sports activities and concerts.
Singers Demi Lovato and Nick Jones said Monday that they wouldn't perform in Charlotte and Raleigh this summer because of the law, becoming the latest performers to cancel concerts in the state.
Repeal bill filed
Four House Democrats – Reps. Darren Jackson and Grier Martin of Wake County, Graig Meyer of Orange County and Susi Hamilton of New Hanover County – filed a bill Monday morning that would repeal all of House Bill 2 and reinstate the Charlotte ordinance that it invalidated.
LGBT advocates started the day's activities off early, rallying outside the State Capitol before dropping off petitions with thousands of signatures seeking a repeal of House Bill 2.
"We just want to be able to live and work along side everyone else," said Fayetteville native Micky Bradford, a transgender woman. "We want a state that is free from fear of discrimination, free from fear of harassment, fear from fear of violence."
Sarah Preston, acting state director of the American Civil Liberties Union, said the law is "wreaking havoc on North Carolina's people, its economy and its reputation."
"If the General Assembly wants to send a clear message that North Carolina does not encourage discrimination and is truly open for business, it must work as expeditiously to repeal this terrible law as it worked to pass it," Preston said.
The petitions produced a separate scuffle between Gov. Pat McCrory's office and national LGBT advocacy group Human Rights Campaign.
McCrory's staff contended the procession of boxes dropped off at the Capitol was an overblown show for the media, saying all of the petitions could have fit in two boxes. Human Rights Campaign officials responded by saying that they simply printed out the list of names of people who signed the petitions rather than including page after page of the petitions themselves.