Raleigh, N.C. — Gov. Pat McCrory and other backers of a new nondiscrimination law that blocks local protections for gay, lesbian and transgender people continued to fend of criticism Wednesday, as business groups and LGBT advocates put more pressure on public officials to repeal the measure.
A day after saying he would be "open to new ideas and solutions" regarding the bill, McCrory told reporters that North Carolinians wanted to focus on other issues.
"If there are ways we can improve it that's great. But I think, frankly, the people of North Carolina want to talk about roads and economic development and jobs and that's where I'm going to focus my attention, not on ridiculous restroom and locker room policies that some people are trying to force onto the private sector," McCrory said.
The furor over what has become known as House Bill 2, or HB2, began to build in February, when the Charlotte City Council passed a nondiscrimination ordinance. Among other things, that ordinance allowed transgender people to use the bathroom that corresponded with the way they presented themselves rather than with their sex at birth.
Charlotte's ordinance stirred a backlash among social conservatives, who said the measure would give cover to predators who wanted to harass women and girls in restrooms and locker rooms. They have pointed to instances in Seattle and elsewhere where men have been arrested in women's rooms, some of them dressed as women, although it's appears unlikely that any of those instances actually involved a transgender person.
Last week, lawmakers returned to Raleigh for an emergency session that wiped away Charlotte's ordinance by putting in place a statewide nondiscrimination law. While that measure prohibits discrimination based on a number of factors such as race or biological sex, it leaves out sexual preference and transgender status. Critics argue the law makes it legal to discriminate against LGBT people and goes a lot further than restrooms. The bill also rewrote the employment discrimination statute, taking away a workers right to sue for discriminatory firing under state law even if that dismissal had to do with age or race.
Throughout this week, large corporations like Bank of America, American Airlines, Cisco, Miramax and Uber signed onto a letter protesting the new law and demanding its repeal. Small businesses joined the fray during a phone call organized by HB2 opponents Wednesday.
"I think this law is going to give our state a bad reputation," said Tony Cope, owner of Myriad Media in Raleigh. He said that many of those adding their names to petitions against the bill are people he either works with currently or wants to work with.
"Those are my clients. I don't like it when my clients are unhappy," Cope said.
Keil Janesen, owner of Ponysaurus Brewing in Durham, said he has found himself explaining to visitors and business partners alike that while the state has set a certain policy, his business doesn't agree. This is particularly a problem in luring new employees from out of state.
"I believe this is a major problem for people in terms of thinking about where they might want to move themselves and their families," he said. "I think it's hard to make the argument that this is not a discriminatory and downright insulting piece of legislation."
McCrory and other backers of the bill have insisted that there are also businesses that back the measure. The N.C. Values coalition says more than 330 businesses, some of who did not want to be named, signed a log in favor of the measure. Many of the names from that list that are public are small or sole-proprietor firms, and at least two of the larger companies on the list said they did not sign on.
But. Rep. Paul "Skip" Stam says all businesses businesses benefit from the new law.
"We saved private businesses and nonprofits from that overreach of of government regulation," Stam said. The Charlotte bill would have barred discrimination in public accommodations, meaning that businesses with public bathrooms would have had to accommodate transgender individuals, whether they wanted to or not.
As to other objections to the law, such as changes to employment protections, Stam said lawmakers could make changes when they return to Raleigh as scheduled on April 25.
"A couple of different unintended consequences have surfaced, and if they turn out to be legitimate, we'll look at it. If it's somebody just wanting to reverse the policy that was adopted, no, we're not going to do that," Stam said.