NBA Falls For Weak Repeal Of North Carolina’s Transphobic Bathroom Bill

With HB2 Gone, the NBA All Star Game will return to Charlotte in 2019

Image via Twitter

In the wake of North Carolina passing an anti-transgender bill last year, the NBA took a stand. The league’​s 2017 All-Star Game was scheduled to take place in Charlotte, but the NBA decided to move the game out of the state to protest the discriminatory bill known as HB2. League officials felt the law violated the values of inclusiveness they believe are at the core of their league.

“While we recognize that the NBA cannot choose the law in every city, state, and country in which we do business, we do not believe we can successfully host our All-Star festivities in Charlotte in the climate created by HB2,”​ the NBA said in a statement released last summer, after they pulled the game out of North Carolina.

[quote position="left" is_quote="true"]This is not a repeal of HB2. Instead, they’re reinforcing the worst aspects of the law[/quote]

Since then, North Carolina has elected a new democratic governor, Roy Cooper, and he worked with the legislature to repeal HB2 in March. With the bathroom bill now off the books, the NBA announced today they would give the 2019-All Star Game to Charlotte. It’s almost a reward for North Carolina coming to its senses and ditching its transphobia. But did it really?

“This is not a repeal of HB2. Instead, they’re reinforcing the worst aspects of the law,” James Esseks, director of the ACLU LGBT and HIV Project, said when the repeal passed back in March. “North Carolina lawmakers should be ashamed of this backroom deal that continues to play politics with the lives of LGBT North Carolinians.”

HB2’s replacement, HB142, isn’t much better than the original; it may even be worse because it comes with the sheen of bipartisanship that further bakes in its restrictions. Sure, HB142 removed the bathroom part of HB2, but what HB2 did went much deeper.

The law came into place because the state legislature didn’t like that Charlotte had added anti-discrimination protections for LGBT citizens. That made former Governor Pat McCrory lose his shit and ram through HB2 to stop municipalities from passing laws like the one Charlotte had enacted. HB142 continues to disallow cities—as well as school boards, government agencies, and public universities—from giving LGBT citizens the same protections afforded to citizens on the basis of race, gender, religion, national origin, ethnicity and age​, without permission from the state legislature. Good luck getting that heavily gerrymandered, right-wing legislative body to do that.

[quote position="left" is_quote="true"]They sacrificed LGBT rights on the altar of political expediency[/quote]

​So really, this new bill is just a clever sleight of hand by the new governor and legislature. Cooper ran on repealing HB2, so he had to get something done. And the legislative body didn’t want to offer trans people any legal protections, but they also knew the $3.76 billion the state was projected to lose over the next dozen years because of HB2 was a bad look for them too. Hence, the two teamed up and sacrificed LGBT rights on the altar of political expediency. But that doesn’t mean the NBA had to go along with it.

​The league, which last year said it was all about inclusiveness, seems to be more concerned about optics right now. The NBA had a chance to stand up for LGBT rights by continuing to withhold the game and the roughly $100 million it would add to the local economy. Instead, it folded almost immediately, just like the NCAA did in allowing March Madness to return to North Carolina.

In the announcement today, NBA Commissioner Adam Silver acknowledged that HB142 isn’t that great, but soldiered on anyway. "While we understand the concerns of those who say the repeal of HB2 did not go far enough, we believe the recent legislation eliminates the most egregious aspects of the prior law," he said in a statement. “Sports have a long history of helping to change attitudes around important social issues. We believe holding our All-Star activities in Charlotte will be a powerful way for the NBA to continue this tradition.”

Silver is right that sports can make a difference on social issues. but wrong in how to use sports to achieve change in this instance. Sometimes the act of playing—like Jackie Robinson breaking the color line in baseball—brings about change. Other times withholding sports from people in order to disrupt the status quo—banning South Africa from international sports because of apartheid—is what forces people to reexamine their positions and thus create change. It was economic and cultural pressure by groups like the NCAA and NBA that embarrassed North Carolinians enough to oust their governor and call for the law’s repeal. But these groups’ acquiescence to a law that’s nearly as bad as HB2 will sap the political impetus to change it. And Silver will not get the social change he claims to want.

Julian Meehan

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