North Carolina's Debacle Reveals How Easily LGBTQ People Can Be Abandoned By Everyone

Big business is a fair-weather friend.
Pacific Press via Getty Images

What happened in North Carolina, with the fake repeal of HB2 in a so-called “compromise” that keeps discrimination in place for years to come, is abominable. The new “replacement” law similarly invalidates pre-existing local anti-discrimination statutes protecting LGBTQ people, doesn’t allow passage of new anti-discrimination ordinances until 2020 (when Republicans will surely attempt to extend the law ) and prevents localities and public entities from protecting access to rest rooms for transgender people.

This complete capitulation by the newly-elected Democratic governor, Roy Cooper ― who cut the deal with Republicans, and, we assume, with big business on board to end boycotts ― will cause lasting harm, not only to gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender people in North Carolina, but in other states, like Texas, where anti-LGBTQ forces are cheering and now feel emboldened in passing heinous similar legislation currently introduced.

And it’s a wake-up call to all of us about just how fragile rights for LGBTQ people are in a time when the White House, congressional majorities and the current Supreme Court nominee, Neil Gorsuch, are hostile to our rights and, more importantly, supportive of religious conservatives who are trying to take them away.

There is a major, lesson here, too, that we hopefully have finally learned.

Big corporations and business ― and that includes college athletic programs, which are major money-makers for their backer and for states ― are fair-weather friends, ready to drop civil rights in an instant, because their ultimate goal is making money. We’ve become too reliant on them as the force for good, deluding ourselves about what their priorities are. That needs to stop.

We’ve always known that politicians, after all, can’t often be relied upon, and will do a complete turnaround, which is often the nature of politics. And that was true of Cooper, who very narrowly won the North Carolina election last year on a promise of repealing HB2 and with thousands of LGBTQ people and their allies raising money for him and getting the vote out. The stinging slap in the face must be challenged, but it’s something that has been all too familiar, and, frankly, isn’t a shocker.

Regarding the college athletic programs, however, like the NCAA, which announced it is returning to North Carolina after this sham, and the Atlantic Coast Conference, which indicated it is likely to do the same, many LGBTQ activists were genuinely shocked. Many thought that after the facts were revealed and it was shown that this was no real repeal, and discrimination would continue, the sports programs would continue the boycott. Activists also now realize that ending the boycotts will validate the same action by companies and others who’ve boycotted the state. The executive director of Equality NC, Chris Sgro, said in a statement that the NCAA’s decision “put a seal of approval on state-sanctioned discrimination.”

He’s absolutely right. The state is now asking companies to return to the state. When it was revealed last week that the state had lost almost $4 billion in revenue, the state legislators and its governor became desperate for anything that would get those companies back. The fake repeal and the NCAA return will help do that.

Big business can be a tool of social justice activists but this is a stellar example of how, when relied upon too much, the strategy can give us a false sense of security and acceptance ― and blow up in our faces.

After Arizona was on the the brink of passing a discriminatory “religious liberty” bill in 2014, which was stopped by a national uproar that included threats by the NFL and major companies, LGBTQ rights activists were encouraged. The same was true after Indiana did pass such a law in 2015 which legislators were forced to water down after corporate threats.

But Arizona, like Indiana, still has no statewide anti-discrimination statute protecting LGBT people, who are discriminated against in housing, employment and public accommodations every day. And companies have no problem doing business there. The watered-down law in Indiana, like HB2, still allows for discrimination, but the media coverage allowed it to appear like a win, so companies backed down.

That same year, in Arkansas, a horrendous anti-LGBTQ bill was passed and signed by the governor under the radar of the national media, and Walmart, headquartered there, stayed silent throughout the process, not issuing a statement opposing it until the very end. Similarly, in Mississippi, wth little media attention, an anti-LGBTQ law was passed with little corporate outrage.

Those are just a few examples in recent years. We must learn that big business is one tool ― not a panacea ― and cannot be relied upon at all when the going gets truly tough. It will do nothing if activists don’t push, and it will cave in the moment something can be called a compromise if we don’t keep its feet to the fire.

Meanwhile, changing hearts and minds on the ground, while making politicians pay for selling us out, is ultimately the only long-term solution. Hopefully, that’s one thing we’ll learn from the North Carolina debacle.

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