NBA pressure might spark change to controversial N.C. bathroom law

NBA Commissioner Adam Silver (left) and Charlotte Hornets owner Michael Jordan pose for a photo during a June 23, 2015, news conference to announce Charlotte, N.C., as the site of the 2017 NBA All-Star Game. (AP/Chuck Burton
NBA Commissioner Adam Silver (left) and Charlotte Hornets owner Michael Jordan pose for a photo during a June 23, 2015, news conference to announce Charlotte, N.C., as the site of the 2017 NBA All-Star Game. (AP/Chuck Burton)

Back in March, the NBA proclaimed itself “deeply concerned” by the signing of North Carolina House Bill 2, suggesting that the “discriminatory law” reversing a Charlotte ordinance that had expanded rights and protections for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people could prompt the league to reconsider its decision to have Charlotte host the 2017 NBA All-Star Game. Two months ago, after briefly softening his rhetoric to describe HB2 as “problematic” while saying there hadn’t been any discussion of moving the game, NBA Commissioner Adam Silver clarified the league’s position that the law must be changed for Charlotte to keep All-Star Weekend.

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Before the start of the 2016 NBA Finals, Silver said that he believed his league would need to see definitive progress toward such a change, and toward ensuring “those basic protections are given to the LGBT community,” before the end of this summer. Silver has yet to spell out specifics on the nature and degree of progress, preferring not to draw lines in the sand. According to Nick Ochsner of Charlotte CBS affiliate WBTV, though, months of conversations between officials from the NBA and the state legislature have led to “new legislation drafted by leadership in the North Carolina House of Representatives seeks to walk back portions of [the] controversial bill.”

The draft bill wouldn’t change or eliminate the headline-grabbing aspect of HB2 that prevents members of the transgender community from using the public restroom that aligns with their gender identity, rather than the gender listed on their birth certificates. Instead, it would introduce a new layer of documentation that would enable transgender individuals to “prove” their new gender, while increasing penalties for violating people’s privacy in bathrooms or locker rooms. More from Ochsner:

Among the draft bill’s biggest changes is the creation of an official document that would recognize a person’s gender reassignment. The new document, which is treated as the equivalent as a birth certificate in the draft legislation, is referred to as a certificate of sex reassignment.

“An individual who (i) was born in another state or territory of the United States that does not provide a mechanism for amending a current certificate of birth or issuing a new certificate of birth to change the sex of an individual following sex reassignment surgery and (ii) resides in this State at the time of the written application may request a certificate of sex reassignment from the State Registrar,” the legislation reads. “The State Registrar shall issue a certificate of sex reassignment upon a written application from an individual accompanied by a notarized statement from the physician who performed the sex reassignment surgery or from a physician licensed to practice medicine who has examined the individual and can certify that the person has undergone sex reassignment surgery.” […]

A person with knowledge of the league’s plans, who asked not to be identified to discuss details of the ongoing discussion surround the 2017 All Star Game’s future in Charlotte, said passage of the proposed legislation would be a big step in helping the league to make the decision to keep the game in Charlotte. […]

“What the league is looking for is for anyone to be able to use, at any All Star venue, the bathroom associated with their gender identity,” the person said, adding that that goal extends to all venues used by NBA teams.

The draft would also create an “anti-discrimination task force” to review issues surrounding the law, including the handling of discrimination claims, according to Jim Morrill of the Charlotte Observer.

The draft legislation comes in the wake of multiple high-profile NBA figures, including Detroit Pistons head coach/president of basketball operations Stan Van Gundy and Hall of Famer/TNT commentator Charles Barkley, calling on the league to move the All-Star Game if the law remained unchanged. Hall of Famer and NBA legend Michael Jordan, owner of the Charlotte Hornets, said after HB2 was signed into law that his franchise is “opposed to discrimination in any form” and “will continue to ensure that all fans, players and employees feel welcome while at work or attending NBA games and events at Time Warner Cable Arena.” Just this past weekend, the NBA and WNBA became the first leagues to participate in New York City’s Pride Parade in an official capacity, with Silver and deputy commissioner Mark Tatum both marching while wearing #OrlandoUnited T-shirts to honor the victims of the June 12 mass shooting at a gay nightclub.

Much of the national attention paid to HB2 after its introduction and quick signing into law by Republican Gov. Pat McCrory focused on the bathroom-use element. As was previously noted by the Charlotte Observer, though, the reach of HB2 stretches beyond that restriction:

The state has long had laws regulating workplace discrimination, use of public accommodations, minimum wage standards and other business issues. The new law […] makes it illegal for cities to expand upon those state laws, as more than a dozen cities had done including Charlotte, Raleigh, Chapel Hill and Durham.

North Carolina’s new law sets a statewide definition of classes of people who are protected against discrimination: race, religion, color, national origin, age, handicap or biological sex as designated on a person’s birth certificate. Sexual orientation – people who are gay – was never explicitly protected under state law and is not now, despite recent court decisions that legalized same-sex marriage. […]

Does HB2 affect rights of people who aren’t gay or transgender?

Yes. The law limits how people pursue claims of discrimination because of race, religion, color, national origin, biological sex or handicap in state courts. The law also means a city or county cannot set a minimum wage standard for private employers.

According to Joe Killian of the Greensboro, N.C., News & Record, CEOs of more than 200 American businesses have called for the repeal of the law. “The economic impact of the controversy has convinced a large segment of the Republican majority that the law must be changed this session,” Killian wrote; the session is expected to adjourn before the July 4 holiday.

Proponents of HB2 have reportedly called for a repeal of Charlotte’s LGBT-protection ordinance as a gesture of good faith toward McCrory and company. Its opponents (and multiple newspaper editorial boards) have argued that a total repeal, rather than a reworking, is the only way forward. Whether the “compromise” proposed in the draft legislation will be palatable to those on either side of the aisle, and whether it would constitute significant enough progress to convince Silver that the All-Star Game should stay in Charlotte, remains to be seen.

“Unless [a bill] substantially repeals HB2, the equality community is going to come out strongly in opposition,” said state Rep. Chris Sgro, executive director of the gay rights group Equality NC, before the introduction of the draft bill.

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Dan Devine is an editor for Ball Don’t Lie on Yahoo Sports. Have a tip? Email him at devine@yahoo-inc.com or follow him on Twitter!

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