Senators call for NBA to move 2017 All-Star Game out of Charlotte

Six U.S. senators wrote a letter to the head of the NBA this week calling on him to move the league’s 2017 All-Star Game out of Charlotte to protest a state law banning anti-discrimination protections for gay and transgender people.

In their letter, the senators — five Democrats and one Republican — urged Adam Silver, the NBA commissioner, “to take a stand against this latest form of discrimination.”

“We hold no ill-will towards the people of Charlotte, who passed an anti-discrimination measure that [the state law] overturned, or towards the people of North Carolina,” the senators wrote. “However, we cannot condone nor stand idly by as North Carolina moves to legalize and institutionalize discrimination against the LGBT community.”

The six lawmakers who signed the letter are Sens. Jeff Merkley (D-Ore.), Mark Kirk (R-Ill.), Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.), Cory Booker (D-N.J.), Tammy Baldwin (D-Wis.) and Patty Murray (D-Wash).

In their letter, the senators said that having the NBA’s “premier annual event” in North Carolina “would be inconsistent with the NBA’s history and values.”

The NBA has said it could consider moving the game due to the law, which has prompted an intense backlash from business groups and cost the state hundreds of jobs. In a statement last month, the league said it was “deeply concerned that this discriminatory law runs counter to our guiding principles of equality and mutual respect,” but stopped short of saying it would move the game.

Silver is expected to hold a news conference Friday at the conclusion of the league’s Board of Governors meetings.

North Carolina Gov. Pat McCrory (R), who signed the law, on Tuesday signed an executive order seeking to quell some of the outrage sparked by the measure, even as he defended the measure and left the highly-criticized provisions intact.

The law has come under intense fire from LGBT groups and businesses, with two major companies — PayPal and, on Tuesday, Deutsche Bank — saying they were halting proposed expansions in North Carolina due to the new law.

Bruce Springsteen announced that he was canceling a show in Greensboro, N.C., to “show solidarity for those freedom fighters” contesting the new law, and a tourism agency has said the law could wind up costing the state millions of dollars in lost events.

Charles Barkley, the Hall of Fame player who is now one of the most prominent NBA commentators, has called on the NBA to move next season’s All-Star Game. This week, Detroit Pistons head coach Stan Van Gundy, who is also the team’s president of basketball operations, said the league should move the game if the law is unchanged, comparing it to past measures used to discriminate against black people.

McCrory said Tuesday that he was expanding protections for state employees, something aimed at preventing these workers from being fired for being gay or transgender. He also said he would ask for legislation in a coming short legislative session restoring the right to sue for discrimination.

But McCrory did not alter the bill’s provision mandating that transgender people use bathrooms that correspond only with the gender on their birth certificate.

McCrory used a videotaped message on Tuesday to say the state had been the subject of “selective outrage and hypocrisy,” adding that he thought the law was needed to respond to what he called the “government overreach” of a Charlotte city ordinance expanding civil rights protections for people based on sexual orientation and gender identity.

His executive order was derided by LGBT groups as well as Roy Cooper, the North Carolina attorney general and McCrory’s gubernatorial opponent in the fall.

“Gov. McCrory’s executive order is a day late and a veto short,” Cooper, a Democrat, said in a statement. “The sweeping discrimination law he signed has already cost North Carolina hundreds of jobs and millions of dollars in revenue. I’m glad Gov. McCrory has finally acknowledged the great damage his legislation has done, but he needs to do much more.”

State Rep. Tim Moore (R), speaker of the North Carolina House of Representatives, said that the legislation has “been unfairly reported and maligned by political activists” so far.

“Gov. McCrory’s executive order affirms the importance of the actions the General Assembly took in passing the Bathroom Bill to protect North Carolina citizens from extremists’ efforts to undermine civility and normalcy in our everyday lives,” Moore said in a statement.

The North Carolina law was hastily introduced last month by lawmakers and signed by McCrory, who has previously defended it by saying the measure “provided protection of our basic expectation of privacy in public restrooms and locker rooms.” Other supporters of the law and similar measures have also defended them as necessary.

The American Civil Liberties Union of North Carolina and other rights groups criticized McCrory’s action Tuesday for leaving the bathroom provision and other elements of the law intact.

“Gov. McCrory’s actions today are a poor effort to save face after his sweeping attacks on the LGBT community, and they fall far short of correcting the damage done when he signed into law the harmful House Bill 2, which stigmatizes and mandates discrimination against gay and transgender people,” Sarah Preston, acting executive director of the ACLU of North Carolina, said in a statement.

The ACLU and other groups filed a lawsuit against the measure that called it tantamount to legalized discrimination. On Tuesday, a spokesman for the ACLU said the order changes nothing and that the lawsuit would proceed.