Mayor Rahm Emanuel traces his ability to lure a Whole Foods warehouse from Indiana to Chicago — with help from a $7.4 million city subsidy — to Indiana’s passage of a “religious freedom” bill that raised concerns about discrimination against gays and lesbians.
Now, the mayor is hoping to do that same kind of corporate and convention poaching in North Carolina after Gov. Pat McCrory signed a law eliminating anti-discrimination protections for lesbians, gays and bisexuals.
The North Carolina law also prohibits transgender people from using washrooms that do not match the gender they had at birth.
“When Indiana … expressed intolerance, I immediately not only expressed our views but went about recruiting companies that did not want to be part of a state with those values, but wanted to be in a city or a state with the values of inclusion,” Emanuel said.
“And just the other day, we announced Whole Foods distribution center that is leaving Indiana and coming to Chicago and bringing 200 jobs. The beginning of that phone call came when Indiana and the governor passed his legislation as it related to religious views and, in my own view, intolerance.”
Now, the mayor has trained his sights on North Carolina companies and conventions held there, just as the 2012 Democratic National Convention was held in Charlotte, N.C.
In other words, the mayor’s largely symbolic executive order banning non-essential city travel to North Carolina is only the beginning of a campaign that, he hopes will produce tangible economic results for Chicago.
“Not only are we doing the executive order as it relates to travel. I have already been on the phone and have asked my staff to draw up a list of companies that we think we can talk” into considering a move to Chicago, Emanuel said.
“If [they’re uncomfortable remaining in] a state that has expressed themselves the way that North Carolina has [and they would] be interested in being in a different environment with a different value system—not only one of tolerance and inclusion, but understanding diversity is our strength,” then he would like to talk to them.
Does the mayor expect the campaign to hit pay dirt?
“I’ve already been on the phone with one individual convention about thinking about Chicago as a better place for them than North Carolina,” he said.
Last month, the Charlotte City Council passed an ordinance that permits transgender people to use public washrooms that match their gender identity.
That prompted the North Carolina legislature to step in and pass a bill that prohibits cities and towns from doing their own thing when it comes to the use of public washrooms. The state version also ties the hands of local municipalities when it comes to protecting LGBT rights.
Chicago is moving in the opposite direction.
After the U.S. Supreme Court made same sex marriage legal across the nation, Ald. James Cappleman (46th), one of five openly gay aldermen, said Chicago should turn its attention to the rights of transgender people and consider requiring “gender-neutral” washrooms in public places,
Cappleman said then that the “day I never dreamed could be possible” does not end the fight for equality — particularly not for transgender Chicagoans.
“Sadly, one of their big issues is where do they go the bathroom? If you talk to those people who are transgender and identify as one sex, the stories I’m hearing from them is that there is a lot of stress and trauma about where to go to the bathroom,” Cappleman said.
“A place to start is when we are looking at a business opening up — say a large restaurant maybe with a certain capacity — we should start encouraging three sets of bathrooms. One for men. One for women. And one gender-neutral. Same for large public places like airports, stadiums and government buildings like City Hall. At least that’s a start.”
At the time, Cappleman said he had not yet decided whether to introduce an ordinance that would compel businesses, airports, stadiums and other places open to the public to create gender-neutral washrooms.
“There has to be more discussion to see what the repercussions are on it,” he said.
“But the fact of the matter is, we have a significant portion of the population that are transgender and they experience much more discrimination than gays and lesbians. As a gay man, people look at me and don’t always assume I’m a gay man. For someone who is transgender, it’s right out there.”
To date, no such legislation has been introduced.