Krys Didtrey, left, and Gloria Merriweather, center, of Charlotte lead chants in opposition to HB2 during a protest in the lobby of the State Legislative Building in Raleigh in April. Robert Willett TNS
Krys Didtrey, left, and Gloria Merriweather, center, of Charlotte lead chants in opposition to HB2 during a protest in the lobby of the State Legislative Building in Raleigh in April. Robert Willett TNS

Local

HB2 was a mistake, most N.C. voters say in Observer poll

October 28, 2016 05:58 PM

More than half of North Carolina voters say House Bill 2 was a mistake and should be repealed, according to a poll for The Charlotte Observer.

But nearly as many support requiring transgender people to use public bathrooms of the gender assigned on their birth certificate.

Fifty-five percent of the 798 likely voters questioned on Oct. 25 and 26 said HB2, which has become a focus of the race for governor, should be repealed. Thirty-two percent disagreed.

Support remains for one of the bill’s key provisions – overturning a Charlotte ordinance that let transgender people use the bathroom of the gender with which they identify. Nearly half the voters agreed the policy could lead to sexual predators attacking victims in bathrooms, while 42 percent disagreed.

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In addition to squelching the Charlotte ordinance, HB2 prevents municipalities from extending legal protections for people who are lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and queer.

Half the voters polled said local governments should be allowed to set their own criteria for what constitutes discrimination, while 38 percent agreed the General Assembly could block local decisions.

Public Policy Polling of Raleigh surveyed voters by telephone or internet on Oct. 25 and Oct. 26. The survey has a margin of error of 3.5 percent.

Sixty percent of those polled said HB2 has hurt the state’s economy. The Human Rights Campaign, the largest U.S. group representing the LGBTQ community, pegged the bill’s total cost to the state last week at $698 million.

Republican officials say the perceived impact is overblown. Commerce Secretary John Skvarla said last week that the measure “hasn’t moved the needle one iota.”

A.J. Belt III, who works in commercial real estate in Charlotte, says HB2 has raised the perceived risks of the $30 million hotel project his firm is pursuing. Losing the NBA All-Star Game, the ACC football championship and other events adds a dose of uncertainty to the number-crunching of the project.

“One of the clear losers is the hospitality asset class in North Carolina,” he said of the law. “I don’t care what anyone says, clearly the state of North Carolina and in particular the city of Charlotte has lost business.”

Belt wants to know why that had to happen. Why did Charlotte pass its ordinance giving transgender people the right to use the public restroom of their choice? And why did the General Assembly swat it down so quickly?

Belt, a “compassionate Republican” and father of two daughters, also questions the use of their preferred public restrooms by transgender people.

“What I don’t want is some male pervert going into a (women’s) restroom just because they feel like it and be protected by the law, or the lack of law, that would allow for that behavior,” he said. “There’s got to be a practical balance. There have to be clear minds in coming up with solutions, but there’s got to be some give on both sides of the issue.”

The N.C. Values Coalition aired an online ad last week that targets Roy Cooper, Gov. Pat McCrory’s Democratic opponent in the governor’s race. By repealing HB2, as Cooper advocates, “Any man at any time could enter a woman’s bathroom simply by claiming to be a woman that day,” it says.

Tami Fitzgerald, the coalition’s executive director, said in a statement: “There have been so many lies about HB2 and its impact that we had to remind voters about the truth and what the law is really about – protecting the safety and privacy our daughters and of women in public bathrooms and changing facilities.”

Peter Barr, a corporate lawyer in Charlotte, has been a longtime ally of the LGBTQ community and attended public meetings as Charlotte crafted its ordinance. But not until Barr learned his son Sebastian is transgender did he come to appreciate how much he didn’t know.

“It’s a difficult issue for people who have not been exposed previously to the transgender community,” he said. “Charlotte did the smart thing and the right thing in including transgender protections.

“The biggest mistake of the legislature was that they rushed this through.”

Barr believes that given the opportunity, such as through public hearings on HB2, most North Carolina residents would support the transgender community. That community, he says, is more in need of protection than HB2 supporters who use what he considers scare tactics about men preying on women in restrooms.

“The transgender community is not new,” he said. “The general public, including myself, just wasn’t aware of it.”

Sixty-nine percent, the largest margin of any of 13 HB2 questions the poll posed, agreed that public facilities can be managed in ways that respect both transgender people and those with privacy and safety concerns.

Transparency

Charlotte resident Curt Albright, who works in investment banking, looks for patterns to build his opinions. He doesn’t like the pattern he’s seen in the legislature.

Legislators called a special session to approve HB2 in a single day. Albright said similar measures, such as those making it illegal for animal-rights activists to film inside industrial-scale farms, also became law without enough public input.

“The deeper I dig into it, it looks more like an atrocity,” he said. “It absolutely looks like a pattern to me, and it goes back to honesty and transparency – and we’re going the opposite way.”

Democrats in the poll were nearly twice as likely as Republicans, 71 percent to 36 percent, to say HB2 was a mistake. Ten percent more voters who personally know LGBTQ individuals viewed the bill as a mistake than people who don’t.

HB2 made North Carolina the butt of jokes on late-night talk shows, and Albright says that image affects tourism, growth and jobs. Directors of real estate research firm CoStar Group this week accepted lower state incentives in picking Richmond over Charlotte for a new site that will employ 732 workers.

“Here we are offering more concessions and they choose to go elsewhere,” Albright said. “What does that say about us?”

Bruce Henderson: 704-358-5051, @bhender

Other poll findings

Public Policy Polling surveyed 798 likely voters from Oct. 25-26. Respondents reachable on landlines were surveyed by an automated voice system. Those reachable only by cell phone responded through an opt-in internet survey. The survey’s margin of error is 3.5 percentage points.

▪ Overall opposition to HB2 was 47 percent, compared to 35 percent in favor of it. Opposition was strongest in the 336, 919 and 828 area codes, including the Greensboro, Raleigh and Asheville areas. Support was highest in the 336 area, followed by the 252 area code of northeastern North Carolina.

▪ African-Americans are likeliest to blame the General Assembly instead of Charlotte, 55 percent to 40 percent of all voters polled, for the HB2 controversy.

▪ Voters who called themselves very religious voiced the strongest opposition to the LGBTQ community at 42 percent, compared to 10 percent of those who are not religious. Very religious voters also were most likely to say the transgender bathroom clause would invite sexual predators.

▪ More men than women support HB2’s transgender bathroom clause, 57 percent to 41 percent. The clause requires transgender people to use restrooms of the gender on their birth certificate in public buildings.

Observer forum

Do you only know HB2 as the bathroom bill? Get the full story at the Charlotte Observer's forum, sponsored by Red Ventures, at 7 p.m. on Wednesday at McGlohon Theater.

The panel will include Forest Hill Church senior pastor David Chadwick, Equality NC's Chris Sgro, former Republican Charlotte mayor Richard Vinroot, transgender activist Fletcher Page, Mitch Kokai from the John Locke Foundation and Jim Morrill of the Charlotte Observer. Charlotte School of Law professor Scott Sigman will be on hand to answer legal questions and WBTV's Molly Grantham will moderate.

The event will be streamed live on The Observer's Facebook page - facebook.com/thecharlotteobserver.