CHARLOTTE, N.C. — Local politicians, activists and community members gathered together at the Le Méridien Hotel in uptown Charlotte on April 14 to rally against HB2.
It was a chance for those in attendance to share their concerns, attempt to understand how things developed to the current situation and to mobilize against the discriminatory bill passed by the Republican controlled General Assembly and signed into law by Gov. Pat McCrory.
The event was the first in a series of town hall events TurnOut! NC is holding across the state.
TurnOut! NC is a collaborative effort between the Human Rights Campaign and Equality NC. It is an outgrowth of TurnOut! Charlotte, which helped elect and re-elect pro-LGBT candidates to city council. This helped ensure the passage of an expanded non-discrimination ordinance, which included LGBT protections and triggered the state’s response.
Equality NC Executive Director Chris Sgro, recently appointed to the North Carolina House of Representatives where he will serve as the only openly gay member, made the opening remarks before bringing up Charlotte mayor Jennifer Roberts.
“I wanted to see and address this incredible crowd of people who treat other people with dignity and respect,”Roberts said, adding, “We will treat even those who disagree with us with dignity and respect.
“And Charlotte is committed to being a welcoming community for all people. We will continue to express those values of inclusion and equality. The values in HB2 are not Charlotte values. We are better than this.”
Roberts urged those considering canceling shows in Charlotte to instead take the tactic that those like Cyndi Lauper, Louis CK and Duran Duran have taken of not canceling shows in North Carolina, but instead using them as a platform to speak out against HB2 and to raise money for LGBT organizations.
Charlotte City Councilmember Al Austin pointed to McCrory s recent executive order, which added non-discrimination protections on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity for some state employees, but left HB2 unchanged, as a crack in the conservative universe of Raleigh.
He called on those fighting the bill to keep hope alive, saying that if they do they will rip that universe apart.
Bishop Tonyia Rawls called out the fear mongering around transgender bathrooms protections, which those against the ordinance trotted out time and again, saying the bill does not make people safer, but puts trans people in harm s way, especially trans women of color.
Rawls referred to HB2 throughout as Hate Bill 2, which drew cheers from the room.
“Just know any time you see me, it s going to be ‘Hate Bill 2.’ Reporters, ‘Hate Bill 2.’ Cameras, ‘Hate Bill 2,'” she said, pointing to the news crews in back. Speakers that followed her picked up on the term and used it as well.
Rawls stressed that all oppressed groups need to come together to fight against HB2. She chastised the LGBT community for accepting the help of people of color in their struggle for marriage equality only to then not show up when those individuals needed similar support.
Rawls also pointed out that there was a lack of diversity in the room, which was noticeably made up primarily of Caucasians.
“HB2 does egregiously attack members of the trans family, but it also attacks so many more,” Rawls said. “Are we concerned about the thousands of hourly workers who will only receive minimum wage because now HB2 has said you cannot force a contractor to pay more than minimum wage? And the minimum wage now is not a living wage. Are we concerned about that?
“Do we also realize that many of those individuals that that impacts are LGBTQ people? So when we fight for things like that, we fight for our community as well.”
A similar sentiment was spoken by Alele “AJ” Williams, a colleague of Rawls’s at the Freedom Center for Social Justice. Williams made an impassioned plea for those in the fight for equality to stand up for all minorities.
Transgender activists Lara Americo and Charlie Comero also spoke, sharing the impact HB2 is having on their lives. Roberts pointed out during her remarks that it is exactly this kind of brave sharing of one s story from the LGBT community that will effect change over time.
“North Carolina is now the first state in the United States to ever take away its state law protection for workplace discrimination on the basis of race, sex, religion, national origin or color,” law professor Brian Clarke pointed out, adding context to the severity of the bill. “No other state has ever done that. And now we are only the second state in the union without state law protection. We join Mississippi in that ignoble position, which has never had such state law protections.”
McCrory called on the General Assembly to repeal that portion of the bill when they return for the short session on April 25, but they are under no obligation to do so.
Human Rights Campaign President Chad Griffin said McCrory was lying to the public every single day when he says things like HB2 did not take away anyone s rights.
Petitions against the bill were passed around toward the end of the event, which TurnOut! NC will bring to Raleigh with them for an action to coincide with the first day of the General Assembly s short session on April 25.
The North Carolina NAACP has also announced that they will hold a sit-in starting on the 25th if HB2 is not repealed.