NEW YORK (Reuters) - The NBA announced on Wednesday it will play the 2019 all-star game in Charlotte, North Carolina, returning to the state after stripping it of the 2017 game to protest a law restricting bathroom use for transgender people.
North Carolina in March rescinded the 2016 law that had mandated transgender people use the public bathroom matching their gender assigned at birth rather than their gender identity, which satisfied the National Basketball Association and other sports associations that had boycotted the state.
But transgender advocates opposed rewarding the North Carolina for striking down the law because at the same time the state legislature also banned North Carolina cities from passing anti-discrimination laws until 2020.
“This is a disgrace from the NBA but not surprising,” Chase Strangio, a lawyer for the American Civil Liberties Union who specializes in transgender issues, said on Twitter.
It was Charlotte’s passage of a local anti-discrimination law that led the Republican-dominated state legislature last year to pass House Bill 2, also known as H.B. 2, citing fears that men would use the law to invade intimate spaces for women.
In response, the NBA and a long list of businesses and entertainers boycotted the state, saying the law unfairly targeted transgender people who already faced discrimination in education, housing and employment.
When those boycotts started taking an economic toll, lawmakers in a state where basketball is extremely popular reconsidered, but they also added the ban on local anti-discrimination ordinances in an appeal to social conservatives.
“While we understand the concerns of those who say the repeal of H.B. 2 did not go far enough, we believe the recent legislation eliminates the most egregious aspects of the prior law,” NBA Commissioner Adam Silver said in a statement.
Basketball great Michael Jordan, who was raised in North Carolina and is currently chairman of the Charlotte Hornets, praised Silver “for his leadership throughout this process” but did not mention civil rights.
In part because of negative reaction to H.B. 2, Democrat Roy Cooper unseated Republican Governor Pat McCrory in the 2016 election. As a Democrat governing in a conservative state, Cooper signed the law that repealed the transgender bathroom while temporarily weakening anti-discrimination protections.
“I’m glad the NBA recognizes the progress we’ve made and will continue to be a partner as we push for statewide LGBT protections,” Cooper said in a statement.
Reporting by Daniel Trotta; Editing by Tom Brown