The state’s GOP lodged a formal complaint with the elections board on Tuesday, asking them to cancel a public discussion on HB 2 hosted by the Observer and Red Ventures, a marketing firm based in Charlotte. The complaint alleged potential bias. The Observer elected not to endorse Gov. Pat McCrory for the first time in his political career. The Observer had a record stretching back to 1992 of endorsing McCrory. Red Ventures CEO Ric Elias donated to Cooper’s campaign.
Opinion on HB 2 remained bitterly divided since it was passed in March.
Forced through the state’s legislature during an emergency session of Congress, the bill was introduced, debated, and signed into law within a single day. The law forces transgender people to use public restrooms that do not correspond with their gender identity when visiting government buildings and schools. It also keeps local legislatures from enacting their own protections to benefit the LGBT community.
The complaint from the GOP alleged that Democrats were attempting to influence the 2016 race, given the “proximity in time to the general election and its focus on an issue repeatedly raised by the Democrat party and Roy Cooper.”
Rick Thames, the executive editor of the Observer, dismissed claims the event was politically motivated.
“It’s ludicrous to suggest that this is anything other than a forum to help voters,” Thames said in a response published to the Charlotte newspaper on Tuesday. “We’ve made every effort possible to make this a forum that represents all views.”
Because there were no allegations of wrongdoing that would violate the state’s campaign finance laws, the event was held on Wednesday night in the face of Republican opposition. The panel for the forum was a bipartisan coalition that included LGBT activists, journalists, politicians, and even a representative from a GOP think tank.
On Wednesday, former Charlotte mayor Richard Vinroot pointed the finger at the City Council for “making Charlotte a guinea pig.” In February, the government body passed a law that included trans people in its non-discrimination legislation, giving them equal access in city parks, restaurants, museums, and public restrooms.
According to Vinroot, that act of government overreach forced the state’s hand. While he agrees that trans North Carolinians deserve equal rights, the Republican added, “We’re not there yet.”
Pam Burton, a concerned parent raising four children, is a born-again Christian worried about the impact of HB 2 on young people. McCrory and other right-wing supporters warned that allowing trans people equal access in public bathrooms would be a “free pass” for sexual predators, who would then use the law to target children.
But her fear is unfounded. In the more than 200 localities with non-discrimination laws on the books, there has not been a single verified report of a trans person harming someone else in a public bathroom.
Robert E. Hagemann, who serves as the City Attorney, pointed to Columbia, S.C., a city that has had non-discrimination laws offering protections on the basis of gender identity and sexual orientation on the books since 2008. In the eight years the law has been in place, there hasn’t been an uptick in sexual assaults in public restrooms.
Trans activist Fletcher Page argued that the discussion should really be about the transgender people impacted by discriminatory legislation. A trans friend, just 16 years old, recently took his own life, and laws like HB 2 don’t make the world easier for him.
“This is more than about bathrooms,” Page said. “This is about lives.”
Although the Observer invited Republican politicians currently holding office at the local and state level to the Wednesday forum, the paper claims that not a single one came to the event. Instead, local right-wing groups asked their followers to harass the forum and its moderators, branding it as nothing but a “political stunt.”