In Red States, Businesses Gearing Up To Fight Bathroom Bills

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(AP) Sean Henry, the president of Tennessee's NHL team, is stunned he even has to explain why he hopes state legislators will snub bills similar to North Carolina's transgender bathroom law, which has consumed that state for months and scared off businesses and sporting events.

The Nashville Predators team is among about 300 companies, ranging from health-care giant HCA to FedEx, joining under the moniker Tennessee Thrives to oppose bathroom and religious objection bills, which they consider discriminatory and bad for business. Companies in other GOP-led states have had success voicing opposition under similar names: Georgia Prospers, Opportunity West Virginia, Missouri Competes.

"I honestly cannot believe that in 2016 I'm actually asked a question as to why I would support anti-discrimination groups," Henry said. "I think the real question is: who hasn't joined?"

After the United States Supreme Court legalized same-sex marriage in 2015, social conservatives turned to statehouses, seeking state laws to let businesses, pastors and government refuse services to LGBT people based on their religious objections to same-sex unions.

Social progressives hoping to hold back that tide appealed to citizens' sense of equality and people's pocketbooks.

Despite the political and economic repercussions that erupted in North Carolina, the American Civil Liberties Union expects an increase in statehouse proposals limiting LGBT protections in 2017.

Frank Cannon, president of the socially conservative American Principles Project, encouraged Republicans to push back against those trying to cast North Carolina's bathroom bill as a financial liability. He pointed to a GOP wave led by President-elect Donald Trump as proof that the public still embraces social conservatism.

"Republicans must keep fighting because, while the left was able to successfully define HB2 as an economic issue and convince elite corporations and celebrities to punish the state of North Carolina for protecting the privacy of young girls, their overreach clearly backfired in the presidential race in a big way," he said.

North Carolina's law omits LGBT people from state anti-discrimination protections and orders transgender people to use bathrooms in schools and government buildings that align with the sex on their birth certificate. Businesses, conventions and sports events have avoided North Carolina in protest, and Republican Gov. Pat McCrory lost his re-election under heavy criticism for signing the law.

Now, as lawmakers begin their work this winter, some Republicans are heeding business groups' warnings to steer clear of the laws, even in some of Trump's more favorable turf.

Kentucky looks on paper like a state likely to embrace a law like North Carolina's: the GOP won control of both legislative chambers in November for the first time in a century, and Republican Gov. Matt Bevin joined a lawsuit this year challenging the federal government's directive that public schools allow students to use the bathroom of their gender identity. Yet Bevin, a staunch social conservative, has dismissed calls for a bathroom bill.


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