When North Carolina Gov. Pat McCrory rammed through the discriminatory House Bill 2 during a special session last March, he not only sanctioned discrimination statewide — he also picked a fight with fair-minded North Carolinians.
After weeks of costly delay and last-minute maneuvers, McCrory finally conceded the race to pro-equality Democrat Roy Cooper. McCrory’s defeat and Cooper’s victory is a watershed moment in the movement for LGBTQ equality.
North Carolina voters had the final say and rejected McCrory’s politics of discrimination, division, and bigotry. And together, we sent a message to anti-equality politicians all across this state and around this country that hate has consequences.
Research found that HB 2 was the critical issue leading to McCrory’s defeat — becoming the first governor of North Carolina to ever lose his reelection and the only incumbent governor, from either party, to lose on Election Day. Sixty-five percent of North Carolina voters opposed HB 2. And, most importantly, 57 percent cited HB 2 as the leading reason to vote against McCrory — 17 points above any other issue.
Make no mistake: Pat McCrory is out of a job specifically because he attacked LGBTQ North Carolinians. And North Carolina’s next governor, Roy Cooper, won because he rejected the politics of hate and made repealing HB 2 a central theme of his campaign.
The days of attacking LGBTQ people for one’s own cynical gain have come to an end with the results of this election. And while we certainly faced setbacks in the national election this year, the Human Rights Campaign and Equality North Carolina have built a campaign infrastructure and tested tactics to lay the foundation for our future victories here in North Carolina. And we have created a model to replicate in other state battles on the horizon.
Our Equality Vote Project’s grassroots campaign was statewide, it was strategic and it was targeted. We built a campaign to turn out more than 450,000 North Carolina voters, including a significant focus on millennial voters. That program included both field outreach and paid media that generated millions of online impressions, TV ads, and thousands of face-to-face voter contacts that helped turn out the pro-equality vote for Roy Cooper.
In a state with more than 255,000 LGBTQ voters who turned out in record numbers, we’ve sent a message to Republicans and Democrats alike: This is a powerful voting bloc that can decide elections.
When the votes were counted in North Carolina, McCrory ran approximately 63,000 votes behind Donald Trump. The message couldn’t be more clear — even in states like North Carolina, where only four years ago voters approved a constitutional ban on same-sex marriage, anti-LGBTQ politicking is now a liability to candidates, no matter their party.
We’ve long known that a growing majority of our fellow Americans support equality. And while the path toward equality is long with new hurdles to clear, the rejection of McCrory’s discriminatory zeal by North Carolina voters is strong proof that attacking LGBTQ people is now a recipe for defeat.
Barely 10 years ago, Republicans — and some Democrats — running for governor were campaigning on their support for state bans on same-sex marriage. But this year North Carolinians proved that the days of attacking LGBTQ people for political gain are over. And lawmakers would be wise to learn from Pat McCrory’s mistakes.
CHAD GRIFFIN is the president of the Human Rights Campaign. Follow him on Twitter @ChadHGriffin.