The Old South Renews Its Assault on the LGBT Community

By William K. Black
April 17, 2016     Bloomington, MN

In the first installment of this column I showed how radically the states of the former Confederacy are acting to destroy the policies of the “New South” and disinter the Old South.  I used North Carolina as my example.  This second column focuses on the renewed assault of the Old South on the LGBT community.  In particular, I discuss why so much of the business community reacts so strongly in opposition to this assault.  But what I am most interested in is explaining why the political leaders of the Old South’s renewed assault are flabbergasted by the business community’s opposition and respond to it in ways that reinforce the opposition.  The emerging leaders of the Old South simply cannot understand why national and global business leaders see the assault on the LGBT community as a problem.  I think the anti-LGBT political leadership of the reemerged Old South have three problems that explains this lack of understanding.


First, the political leaders of the Old South love business and CEOs and are eager to attract them relocate to their states.  These political leaders see big business as natural allies.  The Tea Party leaders who run small businesses are sometimes conflicted.  They believe that the economic system is rigged against them and they fear the difficulty of competing with large rivals, but Tea Party legislators remain reliable votes for anti-regulatory measures and do not introduce legislation hostile to their larger rivals.  The political leaders of the disinterred Old South are stunned that the CEOs of major firms that they view as their natural allies, whose interests they assiduously promote in the legislature and agencies, are denouncing their assault on the LGBT community and promising not to make new investments in North Carolina.

The related problem is that they cannot figure out why the CEOs of larger business are outraged by their legislation.  The legislators seem able only to put themselves in the position of a small business owner.  The legislators think they were helping such owners by allowing them to discriminate with legal backing from the state and by stopping cities from adopting codes that bar such discrimination.  They are shocked by the strong reaction of larger firms to their legislation.  From their perspective they are being betrayed – inexplicably.

The Inability to Understand the Needs of Larger Firms

From the standpoint of a larger firm, North Carolina’s anti-LGBT law is a nightmare.  That is immediately obvious to their CEOs.  It appears certain now, given the experience with Indiana’s similar law last year, that the legislative leaders passing these laws to protect discrimination against the LGBT community do not understand the needs of large firms.  These needs are so foreign to them that they act as if the vehement business reaction to Indiana’s law was so idiosyncratic that it would never occur in North Carolina.  It was, in fact, predictable that it would happen because of the very nature of running a large firm in modern America.  There are simply too many members of the LGBT community and too many people outside the community who care about the treatment of their fellow citizens.  A small business can get buy on a fairly small group of loyal customers.  A large business simply cannot afford to openly support discrimination against tens of millions of LGBT customers (and what is fast approaching 200 million Americans who support their struggle).

Larger firms that go along with discrimination against the LGBT community also face critical problems connected with the leaders of large customers and clients.  These large customers and clients are capable of removing tens of millions of dollars of revenue, sometimes even a billion dollars, by moving their trade to rivals.  Many of their executives will be members of the LGBT community, have loved ones who are members, or care deeply about discrimination.  The loss of trade with even one of these large customers or clients can be enormous – and it could be repeated dozens of times.

But that is not the most acute worry about customers and clients.  Imagine a law firm in North Carolina pitching its services to a large corporation thinking of moving to North Carolina.  The law partner takes the corporate officials to lunch and on the way they see a sign in a restaurant window notifying the public that they do not serve gays.  Scratch one huge potential client for the law firm and one major corporate move to North Carolina.

Larger firms’ even more immediate problem is with their thousands of employees if they have offices in North Carolina.  They are helpless to protect their employees from discrimination.  Thousands of routine activities by employees could produce a nightmare for the employer.  The restaurant example I gave is a classic risk, but the worker buying a cake for the engagement party of a co-worker poses a similar risk.  The co-worker getting married could be straight, a woman named Pat, who is going to marry Patrick.  The co-worker buying the cake asks for a decoration celebrating the coming marriage of Pat and Pat.  The baker explains that she does not make cakes for gay people.  Everybody at the corporation is outraged.  The senior executives have to fly in to promise – what?  They cannot protect their employees from discrimination, which is a terrible message for the employees.

What is HR supposed to tell a worker when they ask him or her to transfer to North Carolina?  They can’t ask “are you LGBT?”  They have to warn every employee they ask to transfer to North Carolina about the laws there.  That will prompt the obvious question – well, why do we do have an office there?   Fewer national and global firms need to have an office in any particular state given modern telecommunications. States that do not permit discrimination against the firm’s employees are willing to give the firm tax benefits for leaving North Carolina and opening offices in their State.

The Inability to Understand the Surging Opposition to Discrimination

William Ligon, the leading proponent of the Georgia bill to shield discrimination against the LGBT community, which was vetoed by the Governor, exemplifies the inability to even understand why people are upset by such discrimination.  “Just when did the freedom to follow one’s religious beliefs in daily life become redefined as discrimination?”  To the proponents, discriminating against the LGBT community simply cannot be discriminatory.  The sheer offensiveness of the discrimination that a growing majority of Americans feel is viewed as unfathomable by those that seek to disinter the Old South’s bigotry.

Why the Old South’s Proponents of Discrimination will Lose This Dispute

By joining the Tea Party in attacking LGBT citizens, McCrory has created national and international publicity of the return of North Carolina to the ranks of the Old South.  He has also galvanized opponents.  Republicans who are college-educated (a big group in North Carolina) and Republicans who are young (a big group everywhere) roll their eyes when they hear Republicans say hateful, stupid things about LGBT citizens.  Big chunks of the North Carolina Republican Party hate what is being done to their state – and realize that when they vote for “Eisenhower Republicans” they end up with people that do the bidding of the Tea Party.  The professional class in North Carolina is embarrassed.  The officials connected with the Research Triangle are enraged by the Republican politicians’ stupidity.  McCrory is trapped into attacking (“They demonized our state for political gain”) the owners of national and global firms (and “The Boss”) – which is not an effective means of convincing them to locate or perform concerts in North Carolina.

As good as the universities are in the Research Triangle – and they are excellent – there are even better universities in other states that are not entering a time machine eager to return to the days of the Old South.  On the margin, the Tea Party has put the Research Triangle’s universities at a substantial disadvantage compared to their competitors.

The ultimate threat to the North Carolina Tea Party and McCrory, however, is from their political allies.  The WSJ ran an op ed by William Ligon, the head of the Republican caucus in Georgia’s Senate entitled “Why Are Companies Taking Sides Against Religious Liberty?”  It then has a tag line “Policies intended to encourage inclusion have curdled into antipathy for people of faith.”  The tag line reveals a logical gap because it purports to find it illogical that anti-discrimination “policies intended to encourage inclusion” forbid people from excluding their fellow citizens in the commercial sector based on factors such as race, gender, ethnicity, and LGBT status.

Ligon spends most of his time trying to kill AP-History on the grounds that it fails to teach “American Exceptionalism” – we are uniquely good people in all the world – as revealed truth.  What most upsets Ligon, however, is that business owners oppose the efforts to provide state sanction to discriminating against LGBT citizens.

No matter. Disney and Marvel threatened to pull production of the “Avengers” film franchise from the Peach State, and the cable channel AMC vowed to take its “Walking Dead” series elsewhere. The NFL warned that it might drop Atlanta from consideration to host a Super Bowl. Dozens of Georgia companies urged Gov. Nathan Deal to veto the bill, which he did on March 28.

This is, by now, a familiar playbook. Last year the furor was enormous after Indiana Gov.Mike Pence signed a religious-freedom bill. Indiana employers called for its repeal, and the NCAA threatened to pull the Final Four tournament from the basketball-crazed state. Under intense pressure, the legislature quickly passed a “fix” that undermined standard RFRA protections.

North Carolina finds itself targeted over a common-sense new law blocking cities and counties from forcing businesses to give transgender people access to the bathroom of their choice. If a restaurant owner wants to allow transgender people to use their preferred bathroom, that’s no problem. The new law simply prevents local governments from forcing business owners to adopt such a policy.

Yet the Tar Heel State now faces an onslaught. More than 120 corporations have demanded the law’s repeal, and the Obama administration is reviewing federal aid to the state. New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo has banned travel there by state employees, even as he promotes travel and trade with communist Cuba.

Why are businesses and sports leagues suddenly championing leftist ideologies that oppose not only religious liberty but even legislation that protects the safety of women and children in restrooms? They are systematically and deliberately misrepresenting these legislative efforts. Despite the threats, Gov. Phil Bryant of Mississippi signed a religious-freedom bill on April 5, and legislators in Missouri and Tennessee are considering similar measures. It is past time for Georgia to join them.

I’ll leave to others the task of explaining in greater detail Ligon’s slimy use of the equivalent of a blood libel (written so fittingly close to the start of Passover) against transgender people as threats to “the safety of women and children in restrooms.”  My focus is on Ligon’s rage against the firms that oppose his effort to disinter the Old South’s bigotry.

Ligon’s Empty Threat and Political Admission

Ligon ends his column on two notes.  One represents a false hope.  The second is all too revealing of Republican pathologies.

These businesses risk offending millions of religious consumers, who contribute trillions of dollars annually to the U.S. economy. If businesses hope to thrive, they may want to avoid being seen as hostile to the beliefs and values many of their customers hold dear.

Too many business leaders are embracing a politically correct social agenda, trying to force every state and every citizen to walk in lockstep. The private economy would be foolish to reject America’s heritage of liberty, which has powered the greatest engine of economic success in history. And if corporations want the benefits of a business-friendly environment, with lower taxes and less regulation, they would do well to recognize who enacts such policies: people with center-right social values, not the hard left.

Ligon’s hopes for an evangelical Christian boycott of American firms are a fantasy.  It has not happened and will not happen.  The opposite, however, will happen to any large firm that endorses discrimination.  A local baker who refuses to bake a wedding cake for a same sex couple may become a hero on the web and get substantial contributions.  No national firm would announce it would refuse to sell wedding cakes to the LGBT community.

Ligon puts his real stress in his concluding paragraph.  The message is pure realpolitik.  Vote for “business friendly” Republicans who will gut regulations and let you evade taxes and in return allow us to discriminate.  That is the real face of the Old South’s oligarchs and their political supporters.  But Ligon’s threats of an evangelical boycott and political retribution will fail.  He is clueless about the needs of running a national or global business.  National and global business leaders support ending state-sponsored discrimination because of those very real needs of running their business, not being “PC.”  Ligon is so suffused with bigotry that he is literally clueless as to how large firms’ employees and customers would react to discrimination against their fellow citizens based on LGBT status.

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