FITZGERALD: No one wants an HB2 debate, again!

It was shocking to read WBTV’s report that mayors in Charlotte and other North Carolina cities would spend time and effort to reboot the divisive and tired debate on HB2 which resulted in boycotts and lost business. At a time of high unemployment and looming municipal deficits when our communities should be working together to recover from COVID-19, we question their priorities.

Every person should be treated with dignity and respect. And our laws should protect the constitutionally guaranteed freedoms of every citizen, no matter who they are. Unfortunately, coercive sexual orientation and gender identity (“SOGI”) laws, like the ordinances pushed by Equality NC, undermine both fairness and freedom.

First, SOGI laws force people who willingly serve everyone to promote messages and celebrate events that conflict with their beliefs. They coerce uniformity of thought and speech on beliefs about marriage, sex and what it means to be male and female. SOGI laws take away free speech and religious freedom for a vast number of Americans.

In other states, government is using SOGI laws to punish people like Jack Phillips, Barronelle Stutzman, and Blaine Adamson for declining to create custom art that expresses messages that conflict with their beliefs. These ordinances are a Trojan horse to weaponize hate and hostility toward small business owners and private citizens with sincerely held religious beliefs. The Supreme Court ruled that small business owner Jack Phillips could not be forced by his city to promote a message that violated his religious beliefs, yet our city leaders have not learned from the mistakes made by other cities.

SOGI laws also create unfair playing fields for women and girls in athletics, business and education. SOGI laws nullify the opportunities promised by federal legislation like Title IX, which guarantees women equal access to scholarships and educational opportunities on the same basis as men. Biological males competing as women disadvantage women and rob them of the opportunity to medal, compete and earn college scholarships. Allowing boys to compete in girls’ sports shatters dreams and steals opportunities. Girls deserve to compete on a level playing field.  

That rare thing, a successful and convincing argument, was being made on the Senate floor.

SOGI laws harm efforts to find loving homes for kids in our nation’s overloaded foster care systems. SOGI laws force faith‐based adoption and foster care providers to violate their beliefs or stop their important work, meaning that fewer providers are working to help connect kids with a family. That is not keeping kids first.

Destructive gender ideology, which is enshrined under SOGI laws, threatens the right of parents to raise their children consistent with their beliefs. People of faith should not be treated like second‐class citizens. Tolerance is a two‐way street. Tolerance and respect for good‐faith differences of opinion are essential in a pluralistic society like ours. They enable us to peacefully coexist with each other. SOGI laws ostracize and marginalize people who hold decent and honorable beliefs about marriage, sex and gender.

We urge mayors across our state to heed the words of our own North Carolina Constitution which says, “No human authority shall, in any case whatever, control or interfere with the rights of conscience,” and the U.S. Supreme Court’s recent reaffirmation of religious liberty, when it stated, “We are also deeply concerned with preserving the promise of the free exercise of religion enshrined in our Constitution; that guarantee lies at the heart of our pluralistic society.” People of faith should be welcome in our cities, not targeted and punished.

To our city leaders we say: listen to important stakeholders like female athletes, small business owners and people of faith. Our voices are important. It’s time for a different approach.

Tami Fitzgerald is executive director of NC Values Coalition.