The NBA announced Thursday evening that the league has opted to move the NBA All-Star Game from Charlotte, North Carolina, in response to ongoing criticism of North Carolina's HB2, a controversial law that most notably requires that people use bathrooms in publicly funded spaces that reflect the gender associated with the biological sex on their birth certificates.
The decision has been lauded by LGBTQ advocates as a progressive step by the NBA, especially when organizations such as the NFL and NCAA each had similar opportunities to send messages through moving events, but opted not to.
"The NBA has exercised strong leadership when it comes to their values of diversity and inclusion, particularly for LGBTQ people," said Shane Windmeyer, executive director of Charlotte based LGBTQ advocacy organization Campus Pride, in a phone interview. "The NBA gave fair warning that if North Carolina did not repeal the law, they would not bring their business. They gave them time to do it, and the responsibility really lies at the feet of the legislature."
HB2 has come under fire specifically due to its aggressive stance towards discriminating toward transgender individuals, something that North Carolina Governor Pat McCrory still refutes.
"The sports and entertainment elite, Attorney General Roy Cooper and the liberal media have for months misrepresented our laws and maligned the people of North Carolina simply because most people believe boys and girls should be able to use school bathrooms, locker rooms and showers without the opposite sex present," McCrory said in a statement.
However, his statement demonstrates his lack of fundamental understanding about trans people. The continuing attacks on transgender identity, particularly trans women, are rooted in an irrational fear that men will dress as women to gain access to female spaces in the name of transgender inclusion. Not only is there no documented case of that happening anywhere in the country, but his misunderstanding of transgender identity opens up all gender non-conforming people to discrimination. The NBA's announcement is a direct condemnation of the climate created by this law, and a tacit tip of the cap to the transgender community -- something not unnoticed by trans athletes.
"A lot of organizations say that they value diversity and inclusion, but the NBA has taken a very impactful stance," Chris Mosier, transgender athlete and executive director of GO! Athletes, said via text message. "Other organizations should consider following in the NBA's footsteps to protect their athletes and fans. Most notably, I think the NCAA should take a hard look at the future of championship games and events held in the state."
Where the NBA decides to put the 2017 All-Star Game, however, is just as important as the decision to remove it from North Carolina. The requirement for being relatively LGBTQ friendly is messy and clearly hasn't been a historical consideration. The NBA has established a far from simple precedent: what is the threshold for discrimination that bars a city from hosting the All-Star Game?
Since 2003, the NBA All-Star Game has been held in nine states and one Canadian province. Eight of these states -- Georgia (2003), Colorado (2005), Texas (2006, 2010, 2013), Nevada (2007), Louisiana (2008, 2014), Arizona (2009), Florida (2012) and New York (2015) -- did not have statewide protections on the basis of gender identity and expression. And of the cities that played host, only Los Angeles, Denver and New Orleans had local protections for trans people.
As the news of this impending announcement from the NBA has been brewing, reports from ESPN and The Vertical indicate that New Orleans is a frontrunner to receive the game. While North Carolina is certainly unfriendly, Louisiana is not exactly a beacon of LGBTQ equality.
Even though anti-sodomy laws -- which criminalized sexual activity between same-sex partners -- were declared unconstitutional in 2003 by the Supreme Court ruling in Lawrence v. Texas, Louisiana not only continues to have the statute on the books, but voted overwhelmingly in favor of keeping it there in 2014. Although New Orleans has an LGBTQ anti-discrimination ordinance, Louisiana lacks protections for LGBTQ individuals through statewide legislation. Louisiana governor John Bel Edwards enacted LGBTQ anti-discrimination protections through executive order in April, but those only apply to state contractors.
Chicago and New York/Brooklyn have also been named as possibilities, and both Illinois and New York have anti-discrimination statutes that are inclusive of transgender people.
The NBA reserves the right to change its mind, and the particular case of the anti-trans aggression within HB2 seemed to be the breaking point of the league. Even with this grandiose move, relocating the All-Star Game still rings a bit hollow when considering the fact that the NBA could do more.
"Another option for the NBA is to recognize that North Carolina needs help," Windmeyer said. "If anything, the NBA could think about how could we help North Carolina get the education and visibility through organizations like Campus Pride and other local and statewide organizations that are living and breathing here?"
Giving credit where credit is due, the NBA and WNBA are the only two professional leagues to march in a Pride parade as they did in New York in June. The NBA also sold T-shirts for LGBTQ Pride Month, with a portion of the proceeds benefiting the Gay, Lesbian and Straight Education Network (GLSEN). The WNBA is the only professional sports league, men or women, with a league-wide LGBTQ Pride initiative, which began in 2014.
More, however, still needs to be done. The NBA could require LGBTQ education for all of its coaches, clear down to its youth leagues. The league could also encourage stadiums to include gender-inclusive restrooms with arena renovations. Additionally, the league could enact a transgender inclusive policy for its youth leagues, and push for legislation within states that could make passing these discriminatory provisions more difficult.
Moving the All-Star Game is a great step, and hopefully it's a sign of things to come from the league. They should be applauded for taking a stand, but frankly it was politically expedient for them to do so. When the league moves beyond the symbolism and into the realm of actionable change, that will be a day to truly celebrate.