Representatives of a progressive Baptist group that decided last year to protest rather than boycott North Carolina’s controversial “bathroom bill” said April 28 the so-called repeal of HB2 may have helped the state’s economy but does nothing to protect people with non-mainstream sexual orientation or gender identity.
Benjamin Boswell, senior minister at Myers Park Baptist Church in Charlotte, N.C., termed HB142, signed into law March 30 by North Carolina Gov. Roy Cooper, “a fake repeal” at a press conference on the steps of Pullen Memorial Baptist Church in Raleigh, N.C.
“It is nothing more than a bait and switch,” Boswell said on the opening day of the April 28-30 30th anniversary annual gathering of the Alliance of Baptists. “It was a financial deal, made solely for economic reasons at the expense of human rights, that legitimizes the deprivation of transgender rights under the banner of bipartisanship.”
HB142 repeals the most controversial aspect of last year’s HB 2, requiring people at a government-run facility to use the public restroom that corresponds to the gender on their birth certificate.
At the same time, it prevents local governments from passing their own non-discrimination policies like the one Charlotte approved in 2016 adding protection based on gender identity — which prompted the conservative legislature to enact HB2 in the first place — until December 2020.
The governor described HB142 as a compromise, but Boswell called it “a capitulation that substitutes the old transgender policy for a new equally cruel one than prevents cities from protecting their own citizens from discrimination.”
Meeting last year in St. Louis, the Alliance of Baptists board of directors discussed changing plans to hold the anniversary gathering in Raleigh — where the movement began in 1987 — in protest of HB2. They opted instead to return to the Tar Heel State as a show of solidarity with affiliated congregations, including Pullen, which support LGBTQIA equality.
Meeting planners organized a protest and press conference to speak out publicly on behalf not only of North Carolina’s transgender community, but also on other issues such as sanctuary churches, fair wages, Black Lives Matter, the death penalty, Islamophobia and religious liberty for people of all faiths or no faith at all consistent with the Alliance covenant and vision statement.
Moral Mondays organizer William Barber, a featured speaker at this year’s Alliance gathering, asked reporters to refrain from characterizing statements from groups such as his ecumenical protest group Repairers of the Breach as the “religious left.”
Barber, pastor of Greenleaf Christian Church in Goldsboro, N.C., said terms like “religious right” and “religious left” are misnomers, adding that what he focuses on “is the moral center, what’s at the center of the gospel.”
“Some things are not about left versus right and Democrat versus Republican,” Barber said. “It’s about what’s right versus what’s wrong.”
“We understand the same people that vote against the gay and lesbian and transgender community are the same people that vote for voter suppression, are the same people that vote against Medicaid expansion and health care, are the same people that stand against living wages, are the same people that vote for more guns rather than more money for public education,” Barber said.
“What we are saying today in this Baptist Alliance, which this Christian disciple has come to stand with, if they are cynical enough to be together, we are Holy Ghost empowered enough to come together.”
Nancy Petty, pastor of Pullen Memorial Baptist Church, said in light of “regressive policies” enacted by the North Carolina legislature, “the Alliance had a decision to make about whether to come on to Raleigh and hold its convocation, its annual gathering, or to go somewhere else to hold it.”
“Ultimately the Alliance decided that as people of faith we are called to give witness to God’s justice love,” Petty said. “So the Alliance decided they needed to come to North Carolina to stand in solidarity together with those in our community who are most hurt by these policies, which are most of us.”
Boswell said apart from being discrimination, HB142 “perpetuates the unfounded vile myth that transgender people are a threat to the public safety and privacy of people.”
“It’s not true,” he said. “It is a fiction of bigotry that has been refuted time and time again by hundreds of cities and states and schools across the nation where transgender people are protected against discrimination without any change in public safety.”
Boswell said the Alliance of Baptists “affirms the rights and dignity of transgender people” and that HB142 is not an issue of “right or left but morally wrong.”
“We stand against the veiled bigotry of it and its harmful impact on our communities,” he said.