Is North Carolina Losing the Restroom Wars?

| May 2, 2016
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In U.S. law, public accommodations are generally defined as facilities, both public and private, used by the public. Examples include retail stores, rental establishments and service establishments as well as educational institutions, recreational facilities, and service centers.

In late March 2016, North Carolina’s lawmakers called a special session to pass House Bill 2, sweeping state-wide legislation that, while targeting a Charlotte city ordinance for gender-neutral public bathrooms, also nullified local anti-discrimination and wage laws. In quick response, hundreds of corporations and institutions and big ticket performers have come out with strong statements condemning the law and in many cases saying that they would rethink doing business in North Carolina or even boycott the state entirely.

Indeed, the fallout has been so severe that some North Carolinians opposed to HB2, including small business owners and concert promoters, have openly worried that a boycott will bring unfair collateral damage to the state.

Many of the most successful social movements in history, from expanding civil rights in the U.S. South to ending apartheid in South Africa, have used boycotts as a tool to build public support, ramp up pressure on lawmakers, and raise the economic stakes to end injustice.

Today’s boycott against North Carolina and HB2, by mobilizing the economic clout of business and the cultural influence of musicians and artists, most closely follows the model of the global anti-apartheid campaign in South Africa. Building on boycotts and strikes already being led by South Africa’s black majority, in 1959 — 35 years before Nelson Mandela’s election signaled apartheid’s demise — the African National Congress, along with progressive allies in Africa and Europe, launched a boycott of the country.

“If the goal of a boycott is to exert economic and political pressure in a way that gets the attention of decision-makers, the HB2 boycott of North Carolina has been successful. Soon after the law passed, a wave of militant protests and blistering statements from human rights groups and state leaders signaled to the media and national observers that many North Carolinians weren’t going to take HB2 lying down.”

On April 5, for example, PayPal announced it was canceling a planned $3.5 million complex in Charlotte that would have employed up to 500 people — a deal years in the making that The Republican Governor had celebrated when it was announced weeks earlier. On April 8, Google Ventures announced it was not investing in North Carolina. Bruce Springsteen’s April 8 cancellation of a sold-out concert in Greensboro was the first in a series of top-selling acts refusing to play in the state that now includes Ani DiFranco, Boston, Pearl Jam and Ringo Starr, Nick Jonas and Demi Lovato. Springsteen’s scrapped performance generated national headlines and scrutiny of HB2 — not to mention lost tourism and tax dollars — on a scale that would have been unlikely had he gone through with the concert.

The flood of bad press about HB2’s economic damage has continued, with little signs of stopping. Tourism offices in Asheville, Charlotte and Raleigh report that more than 30 groups have cancelled or scaled back events due to HB2. In an April 18 statement, Wake County announced $3.1 million in losses already, with the potential impact rising to $28 million.

More than 200 companies and organizations have declared opposition to HB2, with several taking the extra step of changing business decisions with significant economic implications. Deutsche Bank has frozen a 250-job expansion in Cary. NBA commissioner Adam Silver says HB2 must be changed if the basketball league’s multi-day 2017 All-Star festivities are to remain in Charlotte. In an apparent response to HB2, the NCAA unveiled new standards this week for places that bid for sporting and educational events that would likely rule out North Carolina for upcoming baseball, basketball and other events. Several states and cities have banned all non-emergency travel to North Carolina.

There has been a steady drip of announcements often without much public fanfare but with a stinging financial effect. United Therapeutics a multi-billion dollar bio-tech firm cancelled its Corporate annual meeting in North Carolina and moved it to Maryland where transgender people there fought for and won a statewide non-discrimination law, its chairwoman citing the need to accommodate its transgender stockholders.

Economic development officials say they are hearing about many more companies, some representing hundreds of jobs, that are privately reconsidering expansions in North Carolina as they face pressure from their employees.

The Empire Strikes Back

When national retail giant Target reiterated its policy — which states that transgender people can use the bathroom of the gender they identify with — in a blog post last week, at a time when transgender people have gained widespread attention due to legislation such as HB2 that limits LGBT rights in several states. The American Family Association (AFA), announced a boycott of Target over its transgender inclusive restroom policy with more than 1 million signatures.

Major news outlets have largely failed to identify the (AFA) — as an anti-LGBT “hate group,” often only referring to the group as a “Christian” or “conservative” organization.

Target has Announced its Transgender Inclusive Restroom Policy.

On April 19, the Target Corporation released a statement welcoming transgender employees and customers to use bathrooms that match their gender identity:

“Recent debate around proposed laws in several states has reignited a national conversation around inclusivity. So earlier this week, we reiterated with our team members where Target stands and how our beliefs are brought to life in how we serve our guests.

Inclusivity is a core belief at Target. It’s something we celebrate. We stand for equality and equity, and strive to make our guests and team members feel accepted, respected and welcomed in our stores and workplaces every day.
We believe that everyone—every team member, every guest, and every community—deserves to be protected from discrimination, and treated equally. Consistent with this belief, Target supports the federal Equality Act, which provides protections to LGBT individuals, and opposes action that enables discrimination.

In our stores, we demonstrate our commitment to an inclusive experience in many ways. Most relevant for the conversations currently underway, we welcome transgender team members and guests to use the restroom or fitting room facility that corresponds with their gender identity. [Target.com, 4/19/16]”

AFA Designated An Anti-LGBT “Hate Group.”

The AFA has been designated an anti-LGBT “hate group” by the Southern Poverty Law Center since 2010 due to its history of anti-gay extremism and propagation of known falsehoods about LGBT people, including blaming gay men for the Holocaust, supporting criminalization of gay sex, and asserting that being gay is a “poor and dangerous choice.” [Southern Poverty Law Center, accessed 4/26/16; 11/4/10]

AFA has a history of boycotting companies that support the so-called “Homosexual Agenda.” The AFA has long boycotted TV shows and companies that support LGBT equality, which AFA has traditionally termed the “homosexual agenda.” Previously, AFA has called for boycotts of The Walt Disney Company, the Ford Motor Company, Walmart and its subsidiary Sam’s Club, and The Home Depot. During the boycott of Home Depot in 2010, AFA said the home repair store was “deliberately exposing children to lascivious displays of sexual conduct by homosexuals” by supporting pride parades. [RightWingWatch, November 2006; Southern Poverty Law Center, accessed 4/26/16]

Several major brands have come out in support of transgender-inclusive bathroom policies or LGBT rights more generally, calling into question how much Target will be affected by its stance. Other brands that have publicly stated the same position on the issue, such as Starbucks, have not been targeted by the AFA and are absent from the debate among customers and don’t appear to be suffering any consequences. Perhaps the need for caffeine overrides their hate? [Editor’s Note: Starbucks restrooms are all single toilet facilities with locking doors.]

Even AFA, which frequently speaks out against companies it believes threaten traditional family values, seems to have a confusing relationship with Target, naming the company on its 2015 “nice” list of brands considered “Christmas-friendly” in the way they market to shoppers during the holidays.

Some business experts feel that Target’s position makes sense given the image it has cultivated as a brand, which includes featuring same-sex couples in ads; last year it phased out the use of gender-based signage in store aisles as a way of suggesting products to customers.

There is always the risk that Target may lose some fringe customers who were occasional shoppers, there is more than an equal chance that they may gain even more shoppers who are happy with its positions on social issues.

According to Melissa Arnoff, senior vice president at Levick, a crisis communications firm, “When it comes to debating transgender rights, Target is an easy target not only because the brand is so widely recognized but because it’s perceived as a store that’s family-friendly.” “I don’t think they stand to lose much at all,” “This isn’t unusual for them. It’s actually very true to who they say they are as a brand. I think the people who shop there loyally know that.”

The Jedi Knights will win!


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Category: Transgender Opinion, Transgender Politics

Babs

About the Author ()

“Babs” is a member of the Executive Committee of the Democratic National Committee, Deputy Vice Chair of the NJ Democratic State Committee and Political Director of the Gender Rights Advocacy Association of NJ. For the current campaign she serves on the Executive Committee of Trans United 4 Obama. She has served as Vice Chair of the DNC Eastern Caucus, President of NJ Stonewall Democrats, Co-Chair of National Stonewall Democrats Federal PAC Board, Vice-Chair of Garden State Equality, Executive Board member of National Stonewall Democrats as Chair of the DNC Relations Committee and a member of the NJ Civil Unions Review Commission.

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