Opinion: On HB2, Charlotte Blinks First
Did City Council throw LGBT protections under the table?
First, it’s bad form, not to mention at least an in-spirit violation of state open meetings law, for the Charlotte City Council to have met Monday morning to conduct any official business. Second, it seems foolish, maybe even dangerous, for the council to repeal its amended nondiscrimination ordinance—the action that compelled legislators to pass the now-notorious House Bill 2 in March—as part of a deal with a General Assembly that proved just last week that it’s as amenable to bargaining as a ravenous bear.
Because here’s the one thing that matters: The General Assembly can do whatever it wants. It could repeal HB2 in its fifth session of the year, then tack on another bill that in substance surpasses it. It could repeal HB2 in the fifth session, then gavel in a sixth. It could renege on its repeal promise to Governor-elect Roy Cooper, in which case the Charlotte ordinance would go back into “effect” on January 1—small comfort, since the state law invalidated the city ordinance to begin with. (Cooper’s proclamation that “I hope they will keep their word to me” fails to reassure.)
The city’s statement afterward hinted that the General Assembly, as part of the deal, might enshrine the right of North Carolina cities, or at least Charlotte, to pass and enforce their own nondiscrimination ordinances. That would be welcome. Progressive organizations issued statements calling on legislators to hold up their end of the apparent bargain on HB2 and do nothing else. That would be welcome, too. There’s no reason, none, to assume they will. After last week’s surprise special session, it’s far safer to assume legislators will throw more bills into the hopper if given the chance.
Republicans throughout the state had their take on matters ready: The City Council action was proof that the ordinance was, all along, a plot by devious leftists to win the governor’s mansion for Cooper. That strains credulity; never before had legislative Republicans offered any kind of assurance that they’d repeal HB2, and there was always next to no chance Republicans would lose their supermajorities in the House and Senate.
But that narrative—along with the claim that Democrats used the LGBT community as collateral in the election—suddenly seems more plausible. “LGBT rights aren’t a bargaining chip,” said Simone Bell, the Southern regional director for the gay rights organization Lambda Legal, which has sued the state over HB2. “Charlotte shouldn’t have had to repeal its ordinance in exchange for H.B. 2 to be repealed.” Even if the ordinance goes back into effect, gay and transgender people have good reason to be bitter after months of Mayor Jennifer Roberts proclaiming that their civil rights were “non-negotiable,” only to see them on the negotiating table Monday morning during an unannounced meeting.
We’ll see what kind of kick to the gut awaits us tomorrow. For now, it looks like the City Council marched into a classic political trap that will earn them nothing they want, weaken them even further, and undermine their stand on principle—the one card they had to play. If I’m wrong about this, I’ll be happy to say so. But my hope that this General Assembly will operate in good faith is somewhere south of zero, and I can’t understand why it would be any higher among members of the City Council.