“Does anyone actually support HB2?” a woman asked her husband as we lined the walls of City Hall on Tues., April 19, as folks packed in like sardines in a can. They carried signs reading “Repeal HB2,” “Flush HB2” and “First in Flight, Last in Leadership.” More than 200 people were there to “Pack the Chamber” against House Bill 2, which set a statewide definition of classes of people protected from discrimination—excluding members of the LGBT community and citizens with disabilities—strips away anti-discrimination laws set by local municipalities;, and prevents a city or county from setting a minimum wage standard for private employers.
Though she wasn’t asking me, I responded, “Just visit Pat McCrory’s Facebook page; supporters of him and his bill are there.” Nevertheless, none of those enthusiasts and HB2 defenders seemed to be at the Wilmington City Council meeting.
The last city council meeting where the chamber was overflowing with Wilmington citizens was July 21. Folks were there to support the passing of R1: Resolution in Opposition to Seismic Testing and Offshore Drilling Activities off of the NC Coast—which it did, unanimously, in a 6-0 vote.
Ed Adams stood by as crowds settled where they could. Though he didn’t go up to the podium last Tuesday, he was one organizer behind the citizenry turnout. When he and his partner of 24 years, Jeff Mills, found out about HB2 they were instantly outraged by the “NCGA’s Trojan horse.”
“‘Appalled’ is the operative reaction,” he clarified. “As we see municipalities in NC struggling to understand the bill and being lied to, or misinformed by the governor, we know our community and others are about to suffer huge reversals of rights.”
From Adams’ perspective, LGBT rights have never been worth much in NC, with no written protections to prevent citizens from being fired just for being gay. The passing of HB2 was another nail in a coffin. “Passing a resolution should mean that our city council and mayor have control of our community,” Adams said, “and that, if in the future, we decide a better set of nondiscrimination policies are warranted and more fairly suited for Wilmington, we certainly have the right to enact them.”
Denny Best took the floor with sentiments from Martin Niemöller’s “First They Came for the Socialists,” and highlighted the poet’s complacency in Nazi-occupied Germany until it was too late.
“Now, today in this nation—and, yes, this state—we face a growing sector of hatred and intolerance that’s raising its ugly head,” Best continued. “It behooves us to hear the words of Martin through the decades to speak up and find our voices. Not to sit back and say we’re not the people they’re coming for.”
Sandra Leigh followed from an educator’s standpoint, and cited HB2’s exacerbation of existing problems within stressed school systems, employees and students. Leigh has more than 40 years clocked in as a teacher and said NC’s schools are among the lowest in funding, teacher pay and teacher moral.
“In its narrow definition of ‘protected citizens,’ [HB2] omits not just sexual orientation, but also homeless, free and reduced lunch, migrants, military status and other groups who have been previously protected by this state,” she explained. “It specifically prohibits a school board from acting on its own to protect those non-included students and families. It ends any rights of any individual to appeal these discriminatory practices in state courts.”
Leigh went on to remind council members HB2 could cost schools billions of dollars in the withdrawal of federal monies for not complying with federal protection laws—of which encore’s Live Local columnist, Gwenyfar Rohler, detailed in the April 20 issue.
The president of the local NAACP chapter, Deborah Maxwell, condemned HB2 as “Hate Bill 2” and was followed by Equality NC chair Ryan Lee Burris and local LGBT advocate TR Nunley. As a transgender male, Nunley said HB2 puts him in danger as well as trans individuals across NC.
“They were afraid before, but now they’re even more afraid,” he said. “You know, if I go into a men’s room nobody’s going to question me—because that’s not really something that guys do, but you take people like me who present as male going into a female restroom, I’m in danger. Maybe not by that woman but maybe the husband or father of a little girl. In fact, one of my coworkers said, ‘You know if my daughter went into a restroom and she was taking too long, and I saw you come out, I would think that something happened to her.’”
After Nunley’s departure from the podium, Mayor Bill Saffo began to read the council’s Resolution in Support of Local Government Authorities and Request to Rescind Session Law 2016-3 House Bill 2 and concluded:
“Let it be resolved that the City of Wilmington reaffirms its support of diversity and inclusion and the ability of local government officials to protect and advance these ideals, and respectively request that the North Carolina General Assembly rescind House Bill 2 during the 2016 legislative short session.”
The council then passed the resolution with a unanimous 6-0 vote in the midst of a nonstop, roaring standing ovation. The vote added Wilmington to a growing list of NC cities (Carrboro, Chapel Hill, Durham, Greensboro, Hillsborough, Nags Head, and Raleigh) to pass similar resolutions.
Also worth noting: Preceding the resolution on April 19 were proclamations naming April 18-23 as Relay for Life Week and naming April 28-May 1 as YWCA Stand Against Racism Week. As well, the city council was presented the Annual Tree Award by the Wilmington Tree Commission, and ILM’s 13th Tree City USA Award by the NC Forest Service. The same citizens there to support the rights of their LGTB neighbors were as engaged and active in praising all decisions and efforts made by Wilmington City Council to improve and protect the quality of life for everyone in ILM.
As of press on Mon., April 25, four members of NC’s House of Representatives filed House Bill 946 to repeal HB2, as well as called for $545,000 for the state Human Relations Commission operations. House Reps. Darren Jackson, D-Wake, Graig Meyer, D-Orange, Susi Hamilton, D-New Hanover, and Grier Martin, D-Wake, released a statement on Sun., April 24:
“The damage to NC’s reputation and economy has been swift and is growing exponentially. House Bill 2 is bad for all NC citizens and it is bad for all NC businesses.”
If passed, House Bill 946 would retroactively take effect on March 23—the same day HB2 was approved and signed into law.
Anyone interested in watching April 19’s meeting in its entirety can log on to www.wilmingtonnc.gov/city_council.