WENTWORTH – More than 100 citizens filled the parking lot in front of the Rockingham County Governmental Center last night, rallying county commissioners to go on record in support of the Public Facilities Privacy and Security Act – known as House Bill 2 prior to its enactment.
Diane Parnell, chair of the Rockingham County GOP, said the law has become more of a moral issue than a political one, and her party reached out to ministers for support – who showed up to the rally in force. Tom Puryear of Penn Memorial Baptist, Roy Handy of Faith Bible Baptist, Jerry Carter of Reidsville Baptist, Edward Long of True Vine Baptist, and Heath Lloyd of Fairview Baptist were just a few of the pastors who turned up at the rally. A few of them spoke later during a public comments period at the commissioners’ meeting, held before a standing-room-only crowd.
Eventually, the board voted 4-1 to sign the resolution in support of the legislation. Commissioner Keith Duncan voted against it.
“I appreciate everything on both sides [of the issue],” he said, citing his oath of office to uphold the law, and his promise to bring jobs to Rockingham County. “My opposition is that I believe in Part 1 [concerning bathrooms] but have issues with the rest of the bill. But it’s a law that we have to comply with. And it looks like everything that comes out of Raleigh now, local governments are going to have to start giving their stamp of approval. I have a problem with that.”
Seen as discriminatory, HB2 has been the focus of intense criticism since it was signed into law in late March.
In response, towns small and large across the state have passed resolutions either for or against HB2.
In April, the Randolph County Board of Commissioners voted for their own resolution to support the bill. Greensboro’s City Council, however, voted 8-1 in favor of a resolution opposing it. Meanwhile, the NCAA, NBA and a number of other groups continue to put pressure on Gov. Pat McCrory and other state leaders to repeal the law. So far, it hasn’t worked.
Although leaders of the General Assembly’s GOP majority have said they aren’t considering revisions to the law, several Republican lawmakers in the House and Senate have said there is a growing consensus that thinks change is necessary.
More than a dozen citizens spoke out in favor of the commissioners’ support of the law, urging the board to protect the safety and comfort level of students, children and women; to not be intimidated; to vote for common sense; to think of the local economy; and to uphold their oaths to abide by the law.
Tom Schoolfield said he could not find any true civil rights violations in the law. “Is it right for the federal government to blackmail us and not support our school system?”
“Charlotte should not be able to tell a business in Rockingham County what to do,” said a statement by N.C. Rep. Kyle Hall, read by Doug Isley in his absence.
Seven opponents argued the law was “railroaded” through the legislature too quickly; that it risks the loss of economic development; that most sex crimes in Rockingham County are committed by straight family men; and that county commissioners are tasked with local issues, not state issues.
“The truth is, transgender women have used our bathrooms for years and we didn’t know it,” said T Butler, asking the board to not endorse any part of the law.
“I don’t want my kids growing up thinking that if someone is different, they are somehow less equal,” said Adam Turner.
Two citizens urged commissioners to table the issue – including Reidsville Mayor Jay Donecker, who said supporting the law “sends a message of intolerance,” and retired Stoneville psychotherapist Robert Wilson who called it a phantom fear, and said the more of the problem is with 70 percent of male-to-female transgenders being assaulted in the men’s bathroom.
Ann Brady simply requested commissioners to “please do nothing. I’ve traveled outside North Carolina and we are a laughing stock,” and Vernon Gammon of the Teamsters Union said, “I don’t want the commissioners to do anything that would hinder [businesses] coming in.”
When the public comments period came to a close, commissioners discussed their views.
Listening in by phone, Commissioner Zane Cardwell said, “If a business comes here because we stood our ground and did what was right, that’s fine; if I have to sell my soul to bring a business in, that’s not the kind of business we want here.”
Commissioner Keith Mabe didn’t make a statement about the vote, although he pushed to change the resolution to say a majority of the commissioners support it, rather than implying that the entire board supports it. That amendment passed 4-1, with Board Chairman Craig Travis voting against it.
Councilman Mark Richardson said he’s done a lot of research and talked to many citizens about the Privacy Act. “There are a couple of things in this law that need to be questioned. But in the meantime, I support the law, particularly the Privacy Act part of it,” he said. I don’t think the LGBT community is the problem, but I am concerned about folks who will take advantage of a situation to take advantage of the innocent.”
Travis thanked the pastors for getting involved in politics, and urged them to get their congregations involved. “You’re going to hear two sides of the story… you have to find the truth,” he said. “This is an issue that will affect everything about Rockingham County. Common sense will prevail. It always will.”