"In a matter of days, our state’s sports tourism industry will suffer crushing, long-term losses and will essentially close its doors to NCAA business."
That's the dire warning a North Carolina sports official gave to state lawmakers this week following news that the NCAA could soon block North Carolina from holding any championships for the next six years because of its controversial bathroom law.
North Carolina is the only state in the nation with a law restricting which public restrooms and locker rooms transgender people can use. (Though other states are considering following in North Carolina's footsteps.) Republican lawmakers passed the bathroom bill in March in response to a non-discrimination ordinance in Charlotte that opened up bathrooms to transgender people.
The political and economic blowback was immediate and deep. North Carolina's GOP governor arguably lost his job over the law, and the NCAA has already canceled one round of tournaments there. Republicans tried to repeal the bathroom bill in December, but a deal fell through. Now, with potentially hundreds of millions of dollars on the line, some Republicans say the time to repeal the law is now — before it's too late.
I spoke to one of those Republicans, Rep. Chuck McGrady. The conversation has been edited for length and clarity.
THE FIX: Is there more pressure to repeal the law now that the NCAA is threatening to cancel its tournaments in North Carolina?
MCGRADY: That news was not anything new. I suspect for many of my colleagues, though, it wasn't something they clearly focused on and, likewise, they probably weren't aware of what the timelines are. The bid process [for NCAA tournaments] is occurring in the spring, and, at a certain point in the late spring, if we were not to take any action, we really would be putting this off for another year.
So I've heard from colleagues it'd be a shame to do the right thing, but do it late, and therefore still incur some of the damages that are occurring in terms of hosting tournaments in North Carolina.
And you feel like 'the right thing' is to repeal the law?
Whether I think it's unfair or not, the question is: Are we sustaining damages? And I think the answer to that is yes.
Losing the NCAA tournaments could cost the state some $250 million over six years. Is North Carolina sustaining other damages you can trace back to this law?
It's a range of sports-related issues. We lost the opportunity to host the NBA All-Star Game. I hear similar concerns raised in the academic community in terms of both recruiting professors and in terms of competing for grants.
It's hard to put a dollar figure on it, but I'm really not sure I need to know exactly what the dollar figure is to figure out the state is hurting. And, again, I characterize it as unfair, but it is what it is, and it is affecting the North Carolina brand.
What would a repeal look like?
I've been active trying to figure out what a fix could be.
Now that Charlotte has repealed its ordinance, one can clearly argue that we no longer need the law and that we can repeal it. But it's not quite that simple, because upon repeal, we could find ourselves with a bunch of towns and cities moving to do the same thing Charlotte did.
So what could North Carolina lawmakers do to get rid of the state bathroom law without allowing cities to open up bathrooms to transgender people?
There have been a lot of different things discussed: Should the state adopt the federally protected categories [for discrimination] or should we expand them? Should we provide localities a way to expand those categories? The idea here is to be fair. You shouldn't have one municipality deciding how they want to deal with these pretty complex social issues and trying to impose them on others. It's much more complicated than has been discussed in the press. And so, again, it just takes discussion, and we haven't had a lot of that.
Lawmakers actually tried to repeal this law in December but failed. What happened?
The deal, such as it was, was that Charlotte would repeal, and in return, we would repeal.
There's not a lot of trust here between the various players, particularly with Charlotte's leadership, and whether intentionally or inadvertently, they managed not to fully repeal [their non-discrimination ordinance], and from the perspective of some of my colleagues, that just poisoned the well. And once you lose trust, it's really hard to put everything back on the rails again.
And so I'm hoping that we've learned from that experience and that will lead us to talking with each other and trying to see if there's a mutually acceptable way of going forward.
What would going forward with a repeal look like?
Since I don't know what to expect, I really can't tell you.