North Carolina

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Sports Tourism Puts North Carolina’s Controversial Legislation in the Hot Seat

20 Apr, 2016

By: Mary Helen Sprecher

In a dance that seems all too familiar these days, yet another governor is trying to backstep after passing yet another piece of controversial legislation that turned into a yet another tourism nightmare.

When North Carolina Governor Pat McCrory signed into law what had been known as House Bill 2, legislation that limited bathroom access for transgender people and eliminated anti-discrimination ordinances based on sexual orientation, he set off a firestorm of criticism and received warnings of boycotts and canceled investments.

Nowhere was it more evident than in the sports tourism community. The National Basketball Association suggested that it could move its 2017 All-Star Game from Charlotte. (In fact, the Atlanta City Council reached out to the NBA with an offer to host.) According to reports, Charlotte has also seen at least four major conventions pull out of the city, citing the law.

Trying to regain lost ground, McCrory (who is up for re-election in the fall) announced last week that he would strengthen workplace protections for state employees and urge the General Assembly to modify part of the law. However, he stopped short of opposing limits on which bathrooms transgender people could use, and the law will be left largely intact. Critics said his action was based more on image than substance.

According to MSN, the NCAA isn’t impressed either. "We’ll continue to monitor current events, which include issues surrounding diversity, in all cities bidding on NCAA championships and events, as well as cities that have already been named as future host sites," the NCAA said in a statement. “Our commitment to the fair treatment of all individuals, regardless of sexual orientation or gender identity, has not changed and is at the core of our NCAA values. It is our expectation that all people will be welcomed and treated with respect in cities that host our NCAA championships and events.”

An article in USA TODAY noted that cities and towns around the state of North Carolina are scheduled to host at least 20 championship events in the next two-plus years, including the Division I men's basketball tournament and the Division I Women's College Cup soccer finals. First- and second-round games of the basketball tournament are set for Greensboro in 2017 and Charlotte in 2018. The soccer event is to be held in Cary, which has hosted numerous men's and women's finals in that sport.

Charlotte, meanwhile, had been working to create its own more inclusive environment. According to a second article in USA TODAY, Charlotte created a non-discrimination ordinance in February that prevents a “business that provides a public accommodation from discriminating against a patron or customer based on one or more of that person’s protected characteristics. Those protected characteristics are: race, color, religion, sex, marital status, familial status, sexual orientation, gender identity, or gender expression, and national origin,” according to the city of Charlotte.

“Specifically, a business is not permitted to deny any person the full and equal enjoyment of the business’s goods, services, facilities, privileges, advantages, and accommodations on the basis of any protected characteristic. A business is not permitted to exclude, refuse to provide services, offer lesser services, or disadvantage a person because of any of the characteristics protected by the ordinance.”

That ordinance was overturned by House Bill 2, and according The Charlotte Observer, the protected classes recognized by the state are race, color, national origin and biological sex. The Observer reported that there are now no legal protections for gays and lesbians in North Carolina.

ESPN noted that Charlotte’s work had not gone unnoticed, particularly by the NFL, whose league meetings were scheduled for that city in late May.

"We embrace diversity and inclusiveness in all of our policies,'' league spokesman Brian McCarthy told ESPN. “The Panthers have made clear their position of non-discrimination and respect for all their fans. The city of Charlotte also has made clear its position. The meeting will take place in the city of Charlotte.”

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