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North Carolina business leaders demand repeal of transgender law

North Carolina business leaders on Tuesday called for a repeal of a new state law they blamed for mounting economic losses as opponents cancel jobs and events over concerns that it discriminates against gay and transgender people.

The state last month became the first to require transgender people to use restrooms and locker rooms in schools and other public facilities that match their sex at birth rather than their gender identity.

The call from the Greater Raleigh Chamber of Commerce adds to growing pressure on Republican Governor Pat McCrory and lawmakers from corporations, celebrities and activist groups ahead of a legislative session that begins on Monday.

"This legislation is bad for business and bad for North Carolina," the chamber said in a statement.

The group estimated tens of millions of dollars in losses since the law passed, including decisions by PayPal and Deutsche Bank to halt adding a combined 650 jobs in the state and canceled performances by Bruce Springsteen, Ringo Starr, Pearl Jam, Boston and Cirque du Soleil.

An unnamed technology company canceled expansion plans that could have brought up to 1,000 new jobs to the Raleigh area and several other companies had eliminated the region from consideration due to the law, the chamber said.

North Carolina Republicans have struck a defiant tone, saying the law protects privacy rights and keeps children and women safe from sexual predators.

"North Carolina will never put a price tag on the value of our children," Republican Lieutenant Governor Dan Forest told Reuters in an e-mail on Tuesday. "If a corporation wanting to do business in North Carolina does not see the worth of our children in the same light, then I wish them well as they do business somewhere else."

Businesswoman with rainbow-patterned top
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Forest said, "Many businesses leaders and small business owners" support the law but were wary of expressing that in public for fear of reprimand from activist groups.

Resisting pressure

The stance of North Carolina Republicans represents a departure from that of states like Indiana and Georgia that amended or vetoed laws affecting gay and transgender rights after pressure from business groups.

More than 160 business leaders have a signed on to a letter coordinated by the Human Rights Campaign and Equality NC asking McCrory to repeal the law known as HB2. Many of them have also reached out directly to the governor and Republican lawmakers, Human Rights Campaign said.

"We've had discussions with a variety of leaders, and they are aware of our views," said Matt Miller, a spokesman for American Airlines Group Inc, which signed the letter.

GlaxoSmithKline spokeswoman Jenni Brewer Ligday said the drugmaker had reached out to McCrory "to express our concern that policies that impede inclusion and diversity harm North Carolina's competitive business ecosystem and hinder our ability to recruit and retain key talent."

Mitchell Gold, co-founder of the North Carolina-based furniture retailer Mitchell Gold + Bob Williams, has called the governor and his state representatives but not heard back. Gold plans to call the governor daily to lobby for the law's repeal.

"I want to make sure he understands the harm he is causing LGBT people," said Gold. "This makes LGBT people second class citizens. This makes a 15-year-old LGBT kid feel broken."

Tourism bureaus in Charlotte and Raleigh said the two cities have lost more than $5 million in visitor spending due to canceled or relocated events.

Dennis Donovan, a partner at corporate location advisory firm Wadley Donovan Gutshaw Consulting, said the North Carolina law could prompt quiet decisions by technology firms and other companies to place jobs elsewhere.

"A lot of companies won't publicly state it, but they will wind up in Florida, Virginia, Utah instead."