NCAA Restores Games to North Carolina Despite New Anti-LGBT Law

by Chris Johnson, Washington Blade

The National Collegiate Athletic Association has decided to restore games to North Carolina in the aftermath of the state reaching a deal to replace anti-LGBT House Bill 2 with another measure that civil rights groups say is discriminatory.

The league announced in a statement Tuesday the "new law is far from perfect," but the board of directors reached the conclusion to restore games to North Carolina after evaluating the HB2 replacement signed by North Carolina Gov. Roy Cooper after negotiations with Republican leaders.

"We are actively determining site selections, and this new law has minimally achieved a situation where we believe NCAA championships may be conducted in a nondiscriminatory environment," the statement says.

The statement, however, indicates any site awarded a championship event in North Carolina or elsewhere may be "required to submit additional documentation demonstrating how student-athletes and fans will be protected from discrimination."

During a news conference after he signed the bill, Cooper had said he expects sports to return to North Carolina, suggesting he was given assurances it was enough for the NCAA. The statement, however, says the NCAA "did not lobby for any specific change in the law."

The league has initially cancelled seven championship games in North Carolina as a result of House Bill 2, which barred cities from enacting pro-LGBT non-discrimination ordinances and transgender people from using the public restroom in schools and government buildings consistent with their gender identity. The league gave the state a deadline of last week to repeal the measure or else lose those games through 2022.

The new law, House Bill 142, prohibits municipalities, state agencies and the University of North Carolina from the "regulation of access" to bathrooms, locker rooms and showers without the legislature's permission. It also bans municipalities from enacting LGBT-inclusive nondiscrimination measures that would apply to private employment or public accommodations until 2020.

Even though the new law bars cities from enacting pro-LGBT non-discrimination laws and the NCAA's bylaws bar it from hosting games in places with discriminatory practices, the statement gets around that by referencing the success of past games in North Carolina.

"While the new law meets the minimal NCAA requirements, the board remains concerned that some may perceive North Carolina's moratorium against affording opportunities for communities to extend basic civil rights as a signal that discriminatory behavior is permitted and acceptable, which is inconsistent with the NCAA Bylaws," the statement says. "However, we recognize the quality championships hosted by the people of North Carolina in years before HB2. And this new law restores the state to that legal landscape: A landscape similar to other jurisdictions presently hosting NCAA championships."

Other states -- Arkansas and Tennessee -- have similar laws barring municipalities from enacting non-discrimination ordinances outside the scope of state law. The NCAA has never considered withholding games from those states. However, no other state besides North Carolina has a statute in place that bars state agencies from establishing non-discrimination policies on bathroom access for transgender people.

The NCAA decision to restore games to North Carolina is consistent with the decision by the Atlantic Coast Conference, which had also withheld games from the states, but decided on Friday to restore them in the aftermath of the HB2 deal.

The statement says North Carolina assured NCAA it could enact its inclusive policies through contracts with the new law in place. Further, the statement says "outside of bathroom facilities" the law enables school campus to enact pro-LGBT non-discrimination policies.

The NCAA decision comes to the dismay of LGBT rights supporters, who saw a continued boycott from the NCAA over the HB2 deal as likely the lynchpin for whether or not an economic boycott of the state would continue to create pressure for full repeal of the law.

Chris Sgro, executive director of Equality North Carolina, expressed disappointment on Twitter with the NCAA decision, saying the league has abandoned LGBT people by returning games to the state.

Also expressing disappointment with the decision on Twitter was Human Rights Campaign President Chad Griffin, who said NCAA has placed at risk for discrimination LGBT fans and athletes in North Carolina.

Chris Johnson is Chief Political & White House Reporter for the Washington Blade. Johnson attends the daily White House press briefings and is a member of the White House Correspondents' Association.This article originally appeared in the Washington Blade and is made available in partnership with the National Gay Media Association.
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