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Other voices: NC is still in a pickle

If you’re looking for a lesson in sugar-coating a pickle, we’d suggest you take a look at the statement Senate leader Phil Berger and House Speaker Tim Moore released Tuesday after the NCAA agreed to consider North Carolina for future tournaments and championship games.

Here’s what they said: “We are pleased with the NCAA’s decision and acknowledgment that our compromise legislation ‘restores the state to … a landscape similar to other jurisdictions presently hosting NCAA championships.’”

We don’t want to rain on the lawmakers’ victory parade, but we need to point out that the NCAA Board of Governors said it “reluctantly voted to allow consideration of championship bids in North Carolina by our committees that are presently meeting.”

It wasn’t just reluctant. It was also conditional. “As with most compromises,” the NCAA said in a statement, “this new law is far from perfect.” The replacement legislation, House Bill 142, “minimally achieved a situation where we believe NCAA championships may be conducted in a nondiscriminatory environment,” the collegiate athletic sanctioning group said.

But that doesn’t mean a free pass for future tournaments. Any North Carolina site that is awarded a championship event, the NCAA said, must “submit documentation demonstrating how student athletes and fans will be protected from discrimination.” Since the discrimination the NCAA is talking about includes denying equal treatment to members of the LGBT community, does anyone see a problem developing right away?

The state’s own anti-discrimination laws don’t offer protection for sexual identity or preference. It’s still legal in North Carolina to discriminate against gays, lesbians and transgender people because of who and what they are. And House Bill 142 prohibits municipalities from passing their own anti-discrimination ordinances until December of 2020. So, what happens when the NCAA comes knocking and asks a potential host site to show how LGBT civil rights will be protected? The party could be over fast.

House Bill 142 also says the state has the sole right to regulate access to multiple-occupancy bathrooms, locker rooms and changing facilities. And although they’re not talking publicly about gender identity, two Republican lawmakers are preparing to file a bill creating tougher punishments for people trespassing in bathrooms reserved for the opposite sex. Sen. Danny Britt of Lumberton and Rep. Brenden Jones of Tabor City say they’ll file the bill that, in Jones’ words, “strengthens existing law and offers even more protections for everyone in restrooms and changing facilities.” Not hard to figure out where this is going. We expect the NCAA might notice, too.

We suggest putting a big cork in that bottle and taking a more intelligent approach to an incendiary issue. State Sen. Wesley Meredith of Fayetteville talked last week about the testimony of a transgender man and woman who appeared before the Senate Rules Committee during House Bill 142 debate. “That’s the first time someone’s put a face with what’s going on,” Meredith said. “We need to have a discussion. And those people came to Rules and expressed how they felt. But we need to talk to them, like I’m talking to you. We’ve never done that.”

About time our lawmakers do exactly that, and we’re grateful to Sen. Meredith for suggesting it. It’s likely to be a lot more effective than trying to sugar-coat a pickle.

— Fayetteville Observer

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