The NBA All-Star Game is set for North Carolina this weekend after the league delayed Charlotte hosting the event for two years because of the state's "bathroom bill," which singled out transgender people and limited local LGBTQ anti-discrimination protections.
It took the partial repeal of the 2016 law also known as House Bill 2 to persuade the league's Board of Governors and Commissioner Adam Silver to restore the award for 2019. At the time, Silver wasn't fully satisfied.
The alteration did "not mean the fundamental issues are resolved," Silver said in 2017 about the replacement law.
Still, that law returned other major sporting events to North Carolina and made the state attractive again to diversity-minded corporations. But North Carolina officials, judges and activists have far from settled on the rules on who can use which specific-gender public bathrooms and whether state legislators or cities like Charlotte can force anti-discrimination regulations upon private businesses.
While both state Democrats and Republicans aren't fully pleased with the current law, they also don't sound eager to open debate again despite an expiration date late next year on a portion of it. The HB 2 impasse dominated state politics for close to a year, draining away the ability to act on much else.
"I quite frankly don't know if people are ready to start that battle this year," said House Democratic leader Darren Jackson, who fought HB 2. He accepted the replacement because "it's allowed us to have a reset as far as all the economic losses that we were suffering ... but there's still more work to be done."
The GOP-controlled legislature approved HB 2 in March 2016 in response to a Charlotte city council ordinance that had expanded LGBT protections to public accommodations like hotels, restaurants and public bathrooms. The state law repealed the ordinance and prevented similar anti-discrimination rules anywhere else in the state. It also directed transgender people to see public bathrooms and showers that match the gender on their birth certificates.
Voters in late 2016 elected HB 2 opponent and Democrat Roy Cooper as governor over Republican Gov. Pat McCrory, who signed the law. By the following March, Cooper and GOP legislative leaders reached a compromise that led to Charlotte's award for this year's game.
"I'm glad we were able to come together and understand a path forward," said James Jordan, a top executive for the Charlotte Hornets, hosting Sunday's game at Spectrum Center.
The replacement law repealed the requirement about bathrooms and transgender people. But the law also makes clear that state lawmakers make the final decisions on the rules about bathrooms. And local governments can't adopt or change ordinances regulating private employment or public accommodations until December 2020.
Cooper wants a statewide LGBTQ anti-discrimination law, and already signed an executive order essentially creating one for his Cabinet agencies. While Democrats picked up additional legislative seats in last November's elections to end the GOP's veto-proof control of the state House and Senate, Republicans still hold majorities in both chambers and don't sound interested in Cooper's statewide law proposal.
Some Republicans acknowledge something must occur by the end of next year to address the local ordinance prohibition but say more time is needed to evaluate whether that means local governments' powers should be expanded.
"Reasonable minds can probably find a common sense resolution again if need be, but 22 months is an awfully long way's away so I think I'll avoid speculating on that right now," Sen. Dan Bishop, a Charlotte Republican and HB 2 co-sponsor, wrote by email. Any delay also may give time to federal courts weighing a pending lawsuit filed by transgender people over the replacement law.
The NBA is keeping a focus on diversity during the All-Star festivities with events it says are designed to encourage "important conversations about the need to build a more inclusive culture." The league also required game vendors and venues to have anti-discrimination policies that cover sexual orientation, including the use of bathrooms based on a person's gender identity.
These "Equality Principles" were first mandated for last year's game in Los Angeles, said Kathy Behrens, the league's president of social responsibility and player programs. The league believes this year's festivities can demonstrate progress on LGBT issues to others.
"We wished the repeal had gone further. That's still the case," Behrens said in an interview, but the All-Star weekend "will be a powerful way for us to highlight the values that we care about."
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