Under Pressure From Raleigh, City Council Addresses Controversial House Bill

Winston-Salem residents turned out in numbers requiring over flow rooms to be used.  They were there to listen and speak about House Bill 2 (HB2) at the city council meeting held Monday evening. Before the meeting even began, the council chambers of Winston-Salem City Hall reached capacity. Council members expressed concern about how the bill would affect North Carolina economically. Several companies have spoken out against HB 2 since its introduction and passing in the North Carolina General Assembly -both in a special session on Wednesday- last week.

Citizens fill City Hall Council Chamber to capacity
Citizens fill City Hall Council Chamber to capacity

The nationally televised X Games (which had a $172 million impact when they were held in Austin, Texas) are considering venues in Charlotte. Their host network ESPN is among the companies that have said they “embrace diversity and inclusion.” “The folks down in Georgia–they had no doubt about what their governor was gonna do as soon as the businesses opposed it,” remarked Council Member Denise Adams, referencing a similar bill in Georgia that Gov. Nathan Deal vetoed earlier on Monday. The NCAA has also been critical of the new law. While it’s currently scheduled to host a minimum of 20 high-profile games in the state in 2017 and 2018, the NCAA hinted that HB2 could change that. “I expect many legislators do not understand the bill they passed,” said Council Member Dan Besse, who criticized the haste in which HB 2 was passed and proposed a resolution in opposition to the bill. The NBA, American Airlines, Google, Bayer, IBM, Dow Chemical, Paypal, Kroger and others are also among the long list of businesses in opposition to HB 2.

“We’re already seeing negative reactions from businesses…we need to protect our citizens and state economy before it is too late,” Besse concluded. Addressed secondly was the topic of power — specifically, the powers of municipal governments versus the power of the North Carolina state government. Besse warns about the restrictions the bill places upon local officials and businesses. “[House Bill 2] bans local government from exercising local private contracting power to address business practices.” Council Member Vivian Burke believes the bill is an example of state government’s lack of respect for local authority. “I think [House Bill 2] is a slippery slope,” said Burke. “I think it is a shame and a disgrace that we have people not only in Raleigh but in DC who act like we work for them. They work for us.” Council Member Jeff MacIntosh provided insight into the pressure city governments are receiving from Raleigh to pass the controversial bill. “We’re being backed into a corner and it’s being implied that we will have less tax revenue if we do vote no [on HB2].” “Winston-Salem is Winston-Salem,” said Burke, resolved. “We’re progressive –whether you like it or not– and we’re on the move. We’re a growing municipality and we want to treat you with respect no matter who you are.”

Winston-Salem City Council Discusses HB 2
Winston-Salem City Council Discusses HB 2

Council members and citizens were primarily concerned with the obvious (and most publicized) was the discrimination brought forth via the “bathroom issue.” While HB 2 bans discrimination on the basis of “race, religion, color, national origin or biological sex” at businesses and other “places of public accommodation.” This prevents unlisted groups from the protection from discrimination; discrimination against nursing mothers, veterans, and people of different sexual orientations, gender identities, etc. is not outlawed.

The first member of the community to speak against the bill, Angela Stewart calls attention to the bill’s lack of accordance with the 2013 unanimously approved resolution which called for Winston-Salem to become one of 18 cities worldwide to participate in the International Campaign for Compassionate Cities.

“As a North Carolina native and a nearly lifelong resident of Winston-Salem,” said Stewart, who worked personally on the resolution, “I am appalled that my tax dollars were used not to only to fund a special legislative session for the purposes of denial of basic rights, but also to fund the ongoing implementation of HB 2.”

Salem College student Krys Gidtrey identifies as genderqueer and uses “they/them” pronouns. Gidtrey defiantly opposes the bill. “…it forces me to go into the women’s restroom everyday because that is what it says on my birth certificate,” said Gidtrey, “but I am not a woman.”

Clark Fischer agrees with the part of the bill that requires individuals to enter the bathroom of the biological sex that is written on their birth certificate. “I’m against discrimination,” he said, repeatedly. “But what if a devout Muslim woman is in the bathroom and a male-bodied person comes in?” Another citizen, Laura Spangler, believed the bill should be implemented “for the common good of women and children” and because “God does not make mistakes.”

Wake Forest University student Char Van Schneck countered the religious argument with a different take on religion. “It’s true that God doesn’t make mistakes, and that is why trans people should be respected.” As far as the protection of women and children, Schneck pointed out an alarming fact. “More US senators have committed sexual assaults in bathrooms than transgender people.”

After making an emotional speech, Wake Forest student Dani Benitez ends with a few simple words on behalf of trans people in the community. “All we want is for people to treat us like people, the people that we are.”