Column: As PayPal cancels expansion, the consequences of N.C.'s anti-LGBT law get real

The heat is building: North Carolina Gov. Pat McCrory, seen here during a Washington meeting in February, is facing more pressure to reverse a state law seen as anti-LGBT.
(Associated Press)

Late last month, after North Carolina's political leaders enacted a flagrantly discriminatory law aimed at LGBT people and lots of respectable businesses expressed their discontent, we asked when these companies would translate talk into action.

The bill was signed March 23 by Republican Gov. Pat McCrory. The first raindrops are now falling on the state's parade. PayPal, the San Jose-based payment processing company, announced Tuesday that it's cancelling a planned expansion in Charlotte, the state's largest city. That means the loss of a $3.6-million investment this year alone and 400 jobs paying an average of $50,000.

Becoming an employer in North Carolina, where members of our teams will not have equal rights under the law, is simply untenable.

PayPal CEO Dan Schulman

"As a company that is committed to the principle that everyone deserves to live without fear of discrimination simply for being who they are, becoming an employer in North Carolina, where members of our teams will not have equal rights under the law, is simply untenable," company CEO Dan Schulman said in the company's announcement.

the North Carolina law is one of a series of state-level proposals ostensibly aimed at protecting individual privacy by allowing people to use only restrooms or locker rooms corresponding to the gender on their birth certificates. It was designed in part to overturn a city ordinance in Charlotte allowing people to use restrooms according to the  gender they identify with. In signing the bill, McCrory called the Charlotte ordinance a "radical breach of trust and security under the false argument of equal access."

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PayPal's announcement came on the very day that Mississippi Gov. Phil Bryant thumbed his nose at anti-discrimination forces by signing a "religious freedom" bill that allows private faciities to deny services to gay or lesbian weddings based on the service provider's "sincerely held religious belief." Only eight days ago, Georgia Gov. Nathan Deal, responding to pressure from business interests, vetoed a similar bill in his state. 

PayPal's action is notable for two reasons. The first is that until Tuesday, PayPal had simply been one among several corporations that had expressed unhappiness with the law rhetorically but hadn't taken any concrete action, stating only that it was "disappointed by the bill."

The second is that this is a major blow to the state's economy: Charlotte had competed vigorously for the PayPal project, beating out sites in Arizona and Florida in part by offering a $3.7-million tax incentive. The firm's action may well open the floodgates to other concrete corporate responses. 

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A+E Networks and 21st Century Fox, for example, have threatened not to film any more projects in the state unless the law is repealed, but stopped short of canceling projects already under way. Among other signs of potential losses, Government entities that have banned travel to North Carolina on official business include San Francisco, Seattle, New York City and State, and Connecticut. A more than century-old furniture industry exposition that brings 70,000 visitors and $5 billion in annual spending to the state says it has experienced a wave of exhibitor cancellations since the bill's enactment.

State Attorney General Roy Cooper, a Democrat running against McCrory in November, has refused to defend the law in court, calling it a "national embarrassment." 

Thus far, McCrory has portrayed himself and his state as victims of "political threats and economic retaliation," which seems accurate enough.  Thus far he has refused to relent, insisting through a spokesman that he would resist “a well-coordinated, national campaign to smear our state’s reputation after we passed a common-sense law to ensure no government can take away our basic expectations of privacy in bathrooms, locker rooms and showers.”

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