The 49ers became the first NFL team to speak out against North Carolina’s controversial bathroom law and followed through with a $75,000 gift by CEO Jed York to an LGBT-rights advocacy group, Equality North Carolina.
York and the other NFL owners are in Charlotte, N.C., this week for league meetings that include deciding upcoming Super Bowl sites and expansion of replay review. While Charlotte’s team, the defending NFC champion Carolina Panthers, has been mum on the law, which has been criticized for singling out the LGBT community, York and the 49ers were outspoken.
“Discrimination is wrong, and we believe it has no place in North Carolina or anywhere in our country,” York said in a statement released by Equality North Carolina. “As an organization that prides ourselves on being inclusive and welcoming to all, we strongly urge Governor Pat McCrory and the leadership of North Carolina’s legislature to repeal this law in the current legislative session.”
The 49ers are scheduled to play the Panthers in Charlotte on Sept. 18. Matt Hirschy, director of Advancement for Equality North Carolina, said his group does not expect or want the team to boycott the game.
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“I think that Jed is really showing some leadership here, and the 49ers are showing some leadership here from the fact that they’re willing to say, ‘Yes, we’re coming here. But we’re going to make an impact when we come here,’ ” Hirschy said. “And that’s what we’re really encouraging everybody to do.”
The law, House Bill 2, requires those who identify as transgender to use the restroom that matches their biological sex. It also prohibits local governments from drafting their own anti-discrimination laws. It was passed in March in response to a Charlotte ordinance that allowed transgender people to use the bathroom based on the gender with which they identify.
Hirschy said York and other team officials had dinner in Charlotte on Monday with members of his group and some transgender residents.
Discrimination is wrong, and we believe it has no place in North Carolina or anywhere in our country. As an organization that prides ourselves on being inclusive and welcoming to all, we strongly urge Governor Pat McCrory and the leadership of North Carolina’s legislature to repeal this law in the current legislative session.
49ers CEO Jed York, in statement released by Equality North Carolina
“They approached us, and they said, ‘Hey, we’re coming to North Carolina for this meeting and we want to talk with you about this bill and how it impacts LGBT North Carolinians,’ ” Hirschy said. “’We want to meet the people that it affects. And we want to make an impact when we come.’”
Candis Cox, a transgender woman from Raleigh, N.C., attended the dinner and said the 49ers wanted to be as well-versed as possible on the issues. Cox said the support from York was unexpected but welcome.
“The fact that he reached out and said, ‘I’m here in Charlotte. Is there are an opportunity to sit down and talk?’ That’s monumental,” Cox said. “Just given who it is, the message that was sent – we could have sat down and talked about absolutely nothing and it still would have made such an impact and such a difference. Because when you have people of that stature wanting to understand and better educate themselves personally, it really sends a message to everyone else: Are you wanting to know more or are you part of the discrimination?”
The 49ers have had a checkered history when it comes to LGBT issues. A 2005 video to introduce new players to the Bay Area’s diversity instead mocked gay marriage. During Super Bowl media day in 2013, then-49ers cornerback Chris Culliver caused a stir when he said gay players were not welcome in the team’s locker room.
York’s message, however, is the strongest by a professional sports franchise about North Carolina’s law. The state’s NBA and NHL franchises, the Hornets and the Hurricanes, have issued statements opposing discrimination, but the statements did not specifically mention House Bill 2. The NBA has said the law is “problematic” and the 2017 All-Star Game, scheduled to be in Charlotte, could be moved if the law is not altered.
A number of entertainers have spoken out against the law, and Bruce Springsteen, Pearl Jam and Maroon 5 canceled concerts in North Carolina in protest.
Hirschy said the 49ers are the latest Bay Area company – joining Google, Facebook and others – to come out against the law.
I think that Jed is really showing some leadership here, and the 49ers are showing some leadership here from the fact that they’re willing to say, ‘Yes, we’re coming here. But we’re going to make an impact when we come here.’ That’s what we’re really encouraging everybody to do.
Matt Hirschy, Director of Advancement for Equality North Carolina
“We’ve seen tech companies and startups help lead the charge against this bill, speaking out against it and calling for its repeal.” Hirschy said. “They have interests here that they need to protect. We’ve got a big data center for Google and Facebook just 45 minutes from where I’m currently standing in Charlotte. And they need to be assured that when they invest here and when they bring their assets to North Carolina, they’re going to have the confidence that was a good investment for them.”