In his first news conference since signing a controversial bill on LGBT discrimination, Gov. Pat McCrory said Monday the outcry from dozens of major corporations is due to news reports that are “distorting the truth” and “smearing our state.”
McCrory spoke with reporters after a groundbreaking event for Novo Nordisk in Clayton. He said reports that House Bill 2 revokes discrimination protections are wrong.
“We have not taken away any rights that have currently existed in any city in North Carolina, from Raleigh to Durham to Chapel Hill to Charlotte,” he said. “Every city and every corporation have the exact same nondiscrimination policy this week as they had two weeks ago.”
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The new law creates a new statewide discrimination policy that doesn’t protect against discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity. It says the statewide policy will “supersede and pre-empt” all local ordinances on the subject – effectively revoking several city ordinances that specifically banned discrimination against gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender people. The law was triggered by a Charlotte nondiscrimination ordinance allowing transgender people to use bathrooms of the gender with which they identify.
Republican legislators have said a single uniform statewide policy is less confusing for businesses and that cities and towns never had the power to enact their own nondiscrimination ordinances. They rejected Democrats’ attempts to add sexual orientation and gender identity to the state policy, saying the terms are too confusing.
A news release from Senate leader Phil Berger last week said replacing the local ordinances would mean business won’t be “forced to learn and comply with a patchwork of different rules in different cities.”
When a reporter told McCrory that the law appears to revoke a fair housing ordinance in Greensboro and a policy governing municipal contracts in Raleigh, he said he didn’t know whether the policies would be eliminated.
“You’re blindsiding me with a question,” McCrory said. “I’ve been traveling all day, so you’re telling me something I’m not aware of.”
A McCrory spokesman, Graham Wilson, later clarified via email that the law doesn’t affect local housing ordinances, but he said he’s “still not sure” about the impact on other types of ordinances.
Raleigh and Carrboro, for example, have banned their contractors from engaging in hiring discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation or gender identity. The new law appears to strike down those requirements.
McCrory said news media are to blame for the outcry against the new law. “I frankly think some of the media has failed miserably in communicating the clear facts,” he said, specifically naming national publications such as The New York Times and The Washington Post.
Asked about concerns voiced by the NCAA and the NBA – which said it’s reconsidering the future of the All-Star Game in Charlotte – McCrory said he’s talked to “many, many” business leaders who say they “understand” the law once it’s explained to them.
“We’ve clearly stated to them that their (corporate nondiscrimination) policies do not change – they did not know that based on the press coverage,” McCrory said.
Opposition from the business community continued to mount Monday, with the state’s biggest furniture market saying the law will result in “significant economic damage.”
The annual High Point Market said that “dozens” of its customers have said they won’t attend the April event, which draws 75,000 people.
“Based on the reaction in just the last few days, hundreds and perhaps thousands of our customers will not attend Market this April,” the High Point Market Authority said in a news release, adding that it “does not discriminate, regardless of race, gender, religion, sexual orientation or gender identity.”
Several lawmakers who voted for the bill questioned the corporate backlash on Monday.
“Where was this opposition when the Charlotte City Council voted down the same (nondiscrimination) ordinance in 2015?” tweeted Sen. Chad Barefoot, a Wake Forest Republican.
And Rep. Ken Goodman of Rockingham – one of 11 Democrats who voted yes – tweeted that “corps who threaten to boycott N.C. can’t wait to locate in Cuba.”
Not all companies are speaking out against the law. Novo Nordisk – the Danish pharmaceutical company that McCrory joined to launch a $2 billion expansion Monday – said the law wouldn’t have affected its expansion plans had it been in effect when the company picked North Carolina.
“We value diversity and inclusion and have policies that provide our employees a workplace free of discrimination and harassment, including discrimination based on gender identity or sexual orientation,” spokesman Ken Inchausti said.
McCrory’s office on Friday night issued a Q&A to get the governor’s points across. The administration also emailed it to state employees across North Carolina. The email list for all employees is not typically used to address political decisions.
Asked about the email Monday, McCrory said he had to get the information out after last week’s news coverage.
“I’m doing my job and communicating not only with the employees of the state, but also with employers of the state who are getting a lot of information – sadly even through your newspaper – that aren’t clarifying the facts in a correct way,” McCrory said, directly addressing a News & Observer reporter. “I’ve got to do it, especially with your editorial pages that are definitely misleading the public on many items.”
McCrory also disputed comparisons between the North Carolina law and a Georgia “religious liberty” bill the state’s Republican governor, Nathan Deal, announced Monday he plans to veto. That bill would give faith-based organizations the right to deny services and jobs to gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender people.
“I think the media is connecting the two when there’s absolutely no connection whatsoever,” McCrory said. “They’re two different issues.”
Staff writer Drew Jackson contributed to this report