Reflecting on aftermath of HB2 turmoil

I was out of town and immersed in meetings the latter part of last week, and followed the emergence of the HB2 compromise less obsessively than I normally would have.

But I also had a chance to reflect on some observations about the year-plus struggle over the “bathroom bill” and the attempt to erode rights and protection for our lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender neighbors.

First, the animosity toward, fear of and ridicule of the LGBT community was dismaying. As many letter writers, commentators and activists said, North Carolina is better than that.

Second, to write that sentence as if the bill’s support is some kind of surprise is to succumb to the Triangle bubble. Here in this rapidly growing, cosmopolitan region, at the forefront of the state’s transformation from an agri-industrial economy to an education/research/knowledge economy, cultural attitudes differ, sometimes sharply from most of the rest of the state. Nowhere is that more true than in Durham.

To be sure, there is similar difference in Charlotte, where the city council’s assertive stand for LGBT rights spooked the General Assembly into its hasty and ill advised passage of HB2. And there are other pockets such as Asheville.

But in much of the state, support remained strong for the bill and the solid conservative majorities in many legislative districts feeling secure even as HB2 probably was responsible for former Gov. Pat McCrory’s narrow defeat in November.

It’s worth reflecting two aspects of the state’s modern culture almost certainly had as much to do with HB 2’s repeal as the moral rectitude of opponents that marched, rallied, spoke out and organized. Would that that moral rectitude alone could have carried the day. It was necessary but not sufficient.

One of those aspects infuses the state from the mountains to the coast -- sports, especially major-college basketball. The loss of the NBA All-Star Game, moved from Charlotte in the wake of HB2, was an early shock to the basketball faithful. So, too, was the loss of several NCAA post-season tournaments. Any tendency to underestimate the power of that wave was erased when the imminent decision on NCAA sites for the next several years seems to be what finally forced the legislature to relent.

The other cultural aspect that helped HB2 become history is more common to our major urban centers. It was a business climate moderate on cultural issues. The economic damage the state was incurring led many in the business community to speak up on grounds both moral and practical.

If there is a silver lining to this tempestuous year, it is that it forced an extended conversation over LGBT rights. That conversation went on in government chambers, board rooms, church fellowship halls and bars -- and around water coolers.

Maybe it was fueled by the moral issues, maybe by the loss of jobs, conventions or tournaments At least, it occurred.

I don’t know that the debate changed large number of minds, and no doubt some positions merely hardened. But I would like to think -- at least, hope -- that some North Carolinians came to see the LGBT cause differently, perhaps through the pain of a co-worker, a friend -- or a family member.

As our editorial today notes, there is more to be done to fully assure LGBT rights. But our state’s trajectory is more encouraging than a week ago.

Bob Ashley is editor of The Herald-Sun. You can reach him at 919-419-6678 or bashley@heraldsun.com.