Monday, March 4, 2024

Signs of opposition: Local businesses take stand against HB2

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Flying Pi Kitchen has made its stance on HB2 clear with this sign on its cash register. The downtown restaurant is one of several local businesses now vocalizing their opposition to the legislation, which they believe will ultimately impact private enterprise. Photo by Christina Haley.

Had Governor Pat McCrory stopped into Flying Pi Kitchen during his visit with state educators Friday, he would have walked away hungry.

“If he had come into my restaurant, I would have refused him service,” Carolyn Atkinson said.

The downtown eatery owner’s strong stance is backed up by even stronger words she posted on Flying Pi’s cash register, notifying NC politicians who supported House Bill 2 that their business is not welcome.

And it’s just one sign of a growing movement of local entrepreneurs who see the legislation as unfair, unjust and out of step with progressive private enterprise.

Last week, the Wilmington innovators behind technology business incubator tekMountain posted a petition on their website, encouraging others to go on record as opposing HB2. And another growing NC industry – craft beer – launched a campaign to raise funds for civil rights groups working toward a repeal.

Reportedly drafted in response to non-discrimination actions adopted by Charlotte leaders, the bill was swiftly signed into law by McCrory on March 23, the same night it was cleared by the Senate 32-0 during a special session. The law took effect at the start of this month.

In addition to barring transgender people from using the restroom that aligns with their gender identity, HB2 also strips local governments of the ability to raise minimum wage and limits options for employees filing claims of discrimination by requiring they be made only at the federal level.

Seeing the growing list of major corporations calling on state lawmakers to repeal HB2, tekMountain founder and CEO Brett Martin said he and his staff felt compelled to join with them. According to a statement from tekMountain, “HB2 not only attacks the civil liberties of LGBT citizens living in Wilmington, it also endangers economic development throughout the state.”

Martin said the law does not speak for NC and a majority of its residents, and is out of step with businesses like his that foster collaboration and inclusion.

“I believe that HB2 runs counter to what we know about our community, our region and our state,” he said in a follow-up interview.

Atkinson would certainly agree. The former California resident saw in North Carolina a forward-thinking locale for her business. Openly angry about this recent shift, she said Republican lawmakers behind HB2 have made NC look like a “backward, ignorant state” to the rest of the country.

“It’s a cowardly act,” she said.

“Cowardly,” Atkinson added, because it bears down on minority groups like the LGBT community and, more importantly, because those against the law are often the very ones feeling the negative impact.

Case in point: the recent string of concert cancellations across the state from big name acts, such as Bruce Springsteen and Pearl Jam, in protest of HB2. While that hurts the fans more than lawmakers, Atkinson said ancillary businesses like hotels, restaurants and shops are really feeling the pinch.

“Our governor shot the small business people in the back,” she said.

Jim Roberts was feeling the pain Tuesday, having traveled to Raleigh with plans to see Pearl Jam Wednesday night. But as the former director of UNCW’s Center for Innovation and Entrepreneurship who now runs his own enterpreneurial networking business, Roberts can vouch for Atkinson’s claims.

Calling HB2 “topic number one” in the business world lately, Roberts said pullouts from promising industries – PayPal’s decision to not locate in Charlotte, for example – will continue as long as the law is allowed to stay in place.

“I think the PayPal thing is real. That’s 400 really good jobs from a brand name everyone recognizes. You can’t dismiss that as it’s just a liberal progressive company,” he said. “If they pass a different form of legislation, I think this is a short-term problem.”

And that’s what businesses are banking on by putting increased pressure on the General Assembly ahead of its next legislative session on April 25.

“The backlash against North Carolina is negative for all of us,” Martin said. “Private business will certainly suffer from the perception attached to this legislation. We’ve already seen the impact and there is much more to come…By not saying anything, we’re allowing this legislation to speak for us.”

The state’s craft beer community recently found its collective voice, working together to bring a special batch of brew to alehouses across the state. Sales from the “Don’t Be Mean to People: A Golden Rule Saison” will be handed over to Equality NC, a non-profit dedicated to securing equality and justice for LGBT people, and QORDS, which hosts overnight summer camps for queer and trans youth or youth of LGBTQ families.

“We see this beer as a means to an end and a social statement,” said organizer Erik Myers, owner of Mystery Brewing in Hillsborough and president of the NC Craft Brewers Guild. “We’ve seen businesses, municipalities and even rock legends from around the country punish North Carolina for passing this law. We’ve seen business expansions and job opportunities pull out of the state. We see that our communities are being harmed by this action.”

The limited release beer has the backing of 36 breweries, including Ironclad in downtown Wilmington and Good Hops in Carolina Beach. Both local breweries donated ingredients or incentives for contributions to the IndieGogo campaign.

And it has gotten strong support from beer enthusiasts. The campaign quickly surpassed its original fundraising goal of $1,150 and has since been upped several times to the current aim of collecting $50,000. As of Tuesday afternoon, approximately 1,200 people had given a total of nearly $38,000 in a little over a week.

Martin, too, has been pleasantly surprised by the response to tekMountain’s call for opposition to the law.

“The number of people signing the petition so far has been impressive,” Martin said. “But even more impressive is the associated commentary. It’s clear that there are people looking for a way to make their voice heard on HB2. tekMountain is proud to have provided one way for them to do just that.”

And in Atkinson’s cozy restaurant, the small typed-and-printed gesture she made has gotten a lot of positive attention, as well. She sees it as a sign that there is weight to the online rallying cry, “We are not this,” which rounds out her written warning that Flying Pi won’t get in line with mandated discrimination.

“We have a lot of LGBT customers. It seems like every day now I have someone read that sign and thank me,” she said. “That indicates to me that a lot of people don’t agree with what our lawmakers have done.”

Hilary Snow is a reporter at Port City Daily. Reach her at

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