Almost one year ago to the day, I dumped a nearly full beer on my head and, blinded, almost broke my leg falling down a set of bar stairs. Why? Because the Tar Heels, my alma mater's boys in blue, had just taken down Syracuse in the Final Four and were headed to the NCAA Championship.
Point is, I love the Tar Heels. A lot. They were the first team I ever called my own. I was hooked from the minute I arrived as a Freshman on UNC Chapel Hill's campus, and they're still the only team I really follow.
This week, as the Tar Heels head to the final Four yet again, I wasn't the only one mulling whether to go back to NC. The NCAA is currently deciding whether or not to return to the state after the anti-LGBTQ "bathroom bill" HB2 drove them (and billions more dollars) out of the state. In an effort to woo the NCAA back, yesterday the legislature passed a new "compromise" -- but one that according to the ACLU is every bit as hateful as the first.
In its original form, HB2’s draconian anti-LGBT language shocked the conscience of the nation. It allowed widespread legal discrimination by sexual orientation. It endangered transgender folks using the bathroom of their chosen gender. And much more. The new bill repeals HB2, but prohibits local government entities from extending protections to LGBT people all the way until 2020, and it bans protections for transgender individuals in restrooms forever.
So painful though it is, as a Tar Heel and a North Carolinian, I’m asking the NCAA to please stay out out of NC until we get a full repeal of HB2.0. I love college basketball. But for LGBT+ folks in NC, this isn’t about a game, it’s about their lives.
Sadly, economic pressure like this seems to be the only way to get the state Republicans to listen. They tried to blame “the left” for the bill as the flight of billions of dollars swept across the state. Huge multinationals like Paypal retracted a proposed center, and stars like Bruce Springsteen canceled their concerts. The pressure was immense, and helped to finally bring down Governor Pat McCrory -- though only by a few thousand votes. And then the right wing legislature stripped the incoming governor of many of his powers.
The NCAA plays a uniquely powerful role in the state and so has a special responsibility to act in this moment. With 2 of the best college teams in the country -- UNC and (loathe though I am to admit it) Duke -- a principled and continued boycott by the NCAA would send a powerful message. It is shameful that Democratic Governor Roy Cooper signed this hateful “compromise” into law. But continued economic pressure might create space for bolder Democrats in the state to act. Of course, pressure from outside will never be enough. Only organizing from within will fundamentally alter the power inside the state. There’s lots of that already going on, from State Rep. Graig Meyer’s Our Shot candidate program to the new leaders emerging across the state’s urban centers and many more. There’s a long road ahead. And these efforts at transformation would be bolstered by a moral decision by the NCAA not to be fooled by HB2.0.
I learned to love more than basketball during my time at UNC Chapel Hill. Growing up a homeschooled kid in High Point, NC, I frankly didn’t know very many LGBT+ people. But the friends I made throughout my time there made clearer to me the seriousness of their struggle. The bottom line is that their lives and security are at stake. And if it takes the absence of the NCAA to send that message, so be it. They’re worth it, and far more.