Stakes high as North Carolina considers repealing 'bathroom law'

Reuters News
Posted: Dec 20, 2016 3:53 PM

By Letitia Stein

(Reuters) - For months, a drum beat of economic losses for North Carolina has underscored fallout from a state law limiting bathroom access for transgender people that critics denounced as discriminatory.

Now the Republican-led state legislature, which earlier this year rushed through the measure in a single day, could make it all go away.

Outgoing Republican Governor Pat McCrory has summoned lawmakers for a special session on Wednesday to reconsider the law that made North Carolina the first U.S. state to bar transgender people from government-run restrooms that match their gender identity, the latest flashpoint in the culture wars over gay rights.

In the nine months since it passed, the law has been blamed by its opponents for hundreds of millions of dollars in economic losses and the relocation of major sporting events. McCrory narrowly lost a bid for re-election following a bitter campaign in which Democratic Governor-elect Roy Cooper called for repeal.

Cooper said on Monday that he had Republican assurances for a repeal, but supporters of the measure continued to lobby in favor of the law.

"It's an emergency that this bill get repealed, because it's hurting our state and hurting our people," Chris Sgro, executive Director of Equality North Carolina, a group seeking equal rights for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people, said in a phone interview.

While the total financial impact is unknown, some estimates suggest the state has seen more than $600 million in business losses caused by the legislation, known as House Bill 2 (H.B. 2), Forbes reported last month.

Corporations and sports conferences joined rock star Bruce Springsteen and others that pulled out of the state.

After the law was passed in March, leaders of more than a hundred companies, including Apple Inc, Twitter Inc and Alphabet Inc signed a letter calling for it to be repealed.

PayPal Holdings Inc canceled plans to invest $3.6 million and employ 400 workers in Charlotte, the state's largest city. Deutsche Bank also scrapped job expansions.

The National Basketball Association's decision in July to yank its 2017 All-Star Game from Charlotte dealt an especially stinging blow to a state passionate about hoops.

The Charlotte Regional Visitors Authority estimated that the loss of the game alone cost the city $60 million in spending on hotel rooms and other local attractions.

The North Carolina Chamber "is hopeful that House Bill 2 will be repealed quickly," Lew Ebert, president and CEO of the business advocacy organization, said in a statement.

Supporters of the legislation, meanwhile, said its financial toll on the state's economy had been overstated and urged lawmakers to hold firm against a repeal.

"No basketball game, corporation, or entertainment event is worth even one little girl losing her privacy and dignity to a boy in a locker room or being harmed or scared in a bathroom," said Tami Fitzgerald, executive director of the North Carolina Values Coalition.

(Reporting by Letitia Stein; Editing by Daniel Wallis and Andrew Hay)