A step forward or an HB2 surrender?

The Charlotte Observer editorial board

In September, Charlotte Mayor Jennifer Roberts rejected an HB2 compromise.
In September, Charlotte Mayor Jennifer Roberts rejected an HB2 compromise. Charlotte Observer

We don’t particularly care right now about the politics behind the Charlotte City Council and Mayor Jennifer Roberts reversing course Monday and repealing the city’s non-discrimination ordinance.

It doesn’t really matter if Roberts finally bowed to an HB2 compromise because she’s already feeling the heat from Democrats in the next mayoral race.

What’s most important about Monday’s deal – which apparently includes the General Assembly repealing HB2 in full Wednesday – is this: Will Charlotte ultimately be able to offer the LGBT protections that HB2 eliminated?

If so, then Monday’s council vote was a smart way to reset the discussion and relieve economic pressure, all with a friendly governor on their side now.

But if not, Roberts and council members will need to explain why, after resisting previous compromises, they decided to give up the leverage that appeared to be their best chance at restoring the city’s LGBT protections.

Certainly, there’s an economic benefit. Monday’s deal could take a discriminatory law off the books, which allows companies and organizations to view North Carolina in a different light when they consider (or reconsider) their decisions to do business here.

That includes the ACC and NCAA, which pulled championship events from Charlotte and other N.C. cities, as well as the NBA, which dealt Charlotte a severe blow when it moved next year’s All-Star Game weekend. There’s little question that our city, which has perhaps been hardest hit by HB2, has much to gain from the law’s repeal.

But removing that economic pressure also gives Republicans less reason to do what they’ve resisted all along – let Charlotte protect gays, lesbians and transgender individuals from very real discrimination. To this point, we’ve heard nothing that indicates the General Assembly will change that posture, especially if those protections include allowing transgender individuals to choose the bathroom with which they identify.

The city insisted Monday that it remained “deeply dedicated to protecting the rights of all people,” but the path to get there is unclear. Do the mayor and council plan on introducing a similar non-discrimination ordinance down the road with hopes that the memory of HB2’s pain, plus the new threat of a Democratic governor’s veto, would dissuade enough Republicans from retaliating again?

Or perhaps there’s a compromise out there, such as one previously floated in which Charlotte gets its LGBT protections and Republicans make trespassing in bathrooms a felony in North Carolina. Doing so would allow legislators to tell their constituents that they’re protecting women and children, even if those fears were unwarranted in the first place.

That kind of agreement seems unlikely, however, given the General Assembly’s animus toward LGBT rights. But that’s the risk Charlotte’s mayor and City Council took Monday. Yes, HB2 might finally be history, but the same might be true for the best leverage the city had to reclaim its LGBT protections.

Make no mistake: That should be the Charlotte’s ultimate goal. Otherwise, Monday was less of a step forward than a surrender.