CHARLOTTE, N.C. — Political tensions ran high as the Charlotte Observer announced its plan to host a forum discussing House Bill 2 (HB2), the bill known to its defenders as the “Private Facilities Privacy and Security Act.” The controversial law, passed in an emergency legislative session in March and signed that night by Gov. Pat McCrory, has become a hot topic in North Carolina elections. For this reason, the governor and company were strongly opposed to the forum, claiming that it was a biased event meant to sway voters.
The forum, titled “the Truth About HB2: What’s Fact? What’s Fiction?” was held on Nov. 2 at the McGlohon Theatre in Spirit Square. The Observer’s announcement of the event showed no sign of bias, naming panel members from both sides of the controversy. Among the event’s contributors were figures well-known to qnotes readers, namely Chris Sgro, who functions as both an N.C. House Representative, as well as executive director of Equality NC.
Other panel members helped to balance the talks around the law. Among those present was former Republican Charlotte Mayor Richard Vinroot, senior pastor David Chadwick, and Mitch Kokai, a political analyst for the John Locke Foundation.
Despite the balanced nature of the forum, North Carolina Republicans feared that it was an effort to sway the upcoming election. State Republicans contacted the elections board to lodge a formal complaint on Nov. 1, requesting that the next day’s forum be canceled. The request was denied.
“We’ve made every effort possible to make this a forum that represents all views,” wrote Observer executive editor Rick Thames in a published response. “It’s ludicrous to suggest that this is anything other than a forum to help voters.”
The panel moved forward despite opposition, and certainly did include arguments from both sides of the HB2 debate.
Vinroot, in particular, followed the McCrory standard argument by blaming Charlotte’s City Council for the law. The council passed a non-discrimination ordinance that included LGBTQ citizens in its protections, a move widely acknowledged as the trigger for state legislators’ rapid genesis of HB2.
Vinroot blamed the Council for “making Charlotte a guinea pig,” noting that in the fight for transgender rights, “we’re not there yet.”
Though much of the panel’s discussion centered on the old defense of bathroom safety, panel member Fletcher Page, a 24-year-old transgender man from South Carolina, redirected the discussion. Page recently lost a transgender friend to suicide.
“This is about more than bathrooms,” Page said. “This is about lives.”
Though the majority of the forum was civil, one incident arose while Charlotte transgender woman Erica Lachowitz spoke. A conservative Christian minister in the audience, Flip Benham, waved a Bible with a shout of “Abomination!” Then turning towards Chadwick, Benham insisted, “David, is sodomy a sin? Answer the questions!”
Chadwick’s response to this incident was a decisive moment. According to the Observer, Chadwick replied that “his was a God of love, not hate, and that the love might offer the promise of compromise.”
A compromise may not be decided at the state level. Vinroot claimed there was “zero chance” of the legislature rescinding the law. Resolution of the HB2 debate is likely to be found in the federal courts. The Supreme Court announced on Nov. 1 that it would hear the case of Gavin Grimm, a transgender high school boy who wants to use his school’s boys’ bathrooms.
Federal court cases on HB2 itself remain in limbo. The Supreme Court’s decision may be the real solution.