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The NBA All-Star Game Is Back, But LGBT Fight Could Soon Rage Again

Steve Harrison
The NBA All-Star Game was supposed to be held in Charlotte in 2017. The NBA pulled the game because of House Bill 2.

After the North Carolina General Assembly passed House Bill 2 nearly three years ago, the NBA canceled its All-Star Game that was supposed to be held in Charlotte in 2017.

Now the NBA is back – and will hold its All-Star Game at the Spectrum Center Sunday evening. The game’s return is a reminder of the 2016 fight over HB2 – and of another possible fight in 2021.

"I think that HB2 still remains unresolved," said Cathryn Oakley of the Human Rights Campaign, a Washington D.C. group that supported groups like the NBA in boycotting the state.

During the fight, Oakley was often in Charlotte for press conferences with former Mayor Jennifer Roberts, urging the state to repeal HB2. Roberts lost her re-election bid to Vi Lyles in the year after HB2 was passed.

The General Assembly passed HB2 in March 2016 after the Charlotte City Council passed new legal protections for the LGBTQ community — including a provision that allowed transgender people to use the bathroom that matches their gender identity.

[Related Content: Charlotte Talks: The NBA All-Star Game Finally Comes To Charlotte]

"As I said, [HB] 142 did not repeal HB2. It merely replaced it with an anti-transgender law that was in a different form," Oakley said. "And it continues to be one of the most anti-LGBTQ laws on the books anywhere in the country.

142 means House Bill 142 — the legislation that replaced HB2. It prohibits North Carolina cities and towns from passing new non-discrimination ordinances until the end of next year.

It also repealed the requirement that said people have to use the bathrooms that match their gender identity in government-owned buildings, like the Spectrum Center of the Convention Center. Removing that provision upset some conservatives.

But HB 142 also said local governments can’t make new rules about bathrooms, and that provision doesn’t sunset. That angered some HB2 opponents, who want rules that allow transgender people to use the bathroom that matches their gender identity.

So where should a transgender fan go to the bathroom during the All-Star Game?

Here’s what Tom Murray of the Charlotte Regional Visitors Authority said.

I actually don’t have an answer for that," he said. "That’s a better question to ask the Spectrum Center."

Hornets president Fred Whitfield said the team's bathroom policy never changed, though he wouldn't say exactly what it was.

"I mean the arrangements are the same as they have always been in our arena," Whitfield said. "Our arena is open, it’s inclusive. Patrons in our building have always had the freedom in our building to operate as they see fit. And nothing has changed about that."

Credit Steve Harrison / WFAE
Charlotte Hornets president Fred Whitfield

The NBA’s return was met with mixed signals from groups like the Human Rights Campain. But others, like Matt Comer of Charlotte Pride, say they have been pleased with the NBA and the Hornets.

"Certainly, we’ve been happy with the NBA and some of the partnerships at events," Comer said.

He points to All-Star events where NBA and WNBA players met earlier this week with LGBTQ youth at the Time Out Center in Charlotte.

"They may not have any direct influence, but they are certainly going to have some ways to push this conversation forward," Comer said.

Lara Americo, who is transgender, says she is conflicted about the game coming to Charlotte. She says good and bad things came out of the HB2 fight.

"It was a double-edged sword," Americo said. "More people are educated about us, and they wanted to learn about us and be supportive. But it also brought out the worst in some people, and it brought out a lot of violence and discrimination towards us — even in the Charlotte area."

The chief sponsor of HB2, Republican State Rep. Dan Bishop of Charlotte, declined to be interviewed for this story. But he told WFAE last month that the General Assembly could find common ground about non-discrimination ordinances when the moratorium expires at the end of 2020.

"It’s hard for me to see the legislature itching to intervene," Bishop said. "I don’t think it was itching to intervene except for that extraordinary circumstance."

[Related Content: Mecklenburg's Last Republican Legislator Talks Taxes, HB2 And 2020]

The All-Star Game will give the city worldwide exposure, but the CRVA is still dealing with post-HB2 fallout.

It budgeted an extra $3 million over the past two years for marketing because of HB2 and the Keith Scott protests and riots. And there are still six states that ban state employee travel to North Carolina because of HB2: California, Connecticut, Minnesota, New York, Vermont and Washington.

Steve Harrison is WFAE's politics and government reporter. Prior to joining WFAE, Steve worked at the Charlotte Observer, where he started on the business desk, then covered politics extensively as the Observer’s lead city government reporter. Steve also spent 10 years with the Miami Herald. His work has appeared in The Washington Post, the Sporting News and Sports Illustrated.