NBA, NCAA Moves Could Be Game-Changers for Anti-LGBT Legislation in Texas

AT&T Stadium, in Arlington, is in Texas state Representative Matt Krause's district. Krause has vowed to pass anti-LGBT "religious freedom" legislation in 2017 that could dissuade major sports organizations from using the facility.
Conservative Texas lawmakers have vowed to pass anti-LGBT legislation in 2017 that could dissuade major sports organizations from using facilities like AT&T Stadium in Arlington.

The NBA and NCAA may have just dealt a preemptive, one-two knockout punch to anti-LGBT bills in the upcoming Texas Legislature, which convenes in January.

First, the NBA announced plans to move the 2017 All-Star Game out of Charlotte over North Carolina’s House Bill 2, which restricts restroom access for transgender people and prohibits cities from enforcing LGBT-inclusive nondiscrimination ordinances.

Then, the NCAA responded to HB 2 by saying it will quiz prospective championship host cities about whether they protect LGBT people against discrimination. Texas cities hosted three of the last six men’s basketball Final Four tournaments, and the event, with an estimated economic impact of $75 million, is slated for San Antonio in 2018.

Lieutenant Governor Dan Patrick and other GOP state lawmakers have indicated they plan to push legislation similar to HB 2 in next year’s session. However, Rice University political scientist Mark Jones told the Observer that even if such a bill were to clear the Patrick-led Senate, he believes it would die at the hands of moderate Republican House speaker Joe Straus.

“In the House, it’s difficult to see any HB 2-type legislation making it out of committee,” Jones said. “The speaker isn’t going to let something through that would have a negative impact on Texas businesses and could result in the cancellation of sporting events.”

A spokesman for Straus, who represents San Antonio, couldn’t immediately be reached for comment. A spokesman for Patrick, who previously railed against “threats” of backlash from corporations and sporting events over anti-LGBT legislation such as HB 2, didn’t respond to multiple phone calls and emails.

In defense of anti-LGBT legislation, Patrick has pointed out the men’s Final Four was held in Houston in April despite voters’ decision to repeal the city’s Equal Rights Ordinance last November. But the NCAA Board of Governors didn’t adopt new diversity guidelines for host cities until after the 2016 Final Four, and Jones drew a distinction between voters repealing a nondiscrimination ordinance and legislators passing an anti-LGBT bill.

Michael Sawaya, San Antonio’s executive director for conventions and sports facilities, told the Observer he’s confident the Alamo City will retain next year’s Final Four based on its 2013 nondiscrimination ordinance. He also said the city will lobby against any state proposal to preempt the law.

“As a general rule, the City of San Antonio opposes legislation that would erode local control — the fundamental authority of cities to govern in a manner that is in the best interests of the community,” Sawaya said, emphasizing the importance of the event for the city. “Therefore, we intend to strongly advocate for our ability to host it in San Antonio in 2018.”

City officials in Arlington, the site of the NBA’s 2010 All-Star Game, and which reportedly is vying to host a future men’s Final Four at AT&T Stadium, didn’t immediately respond to requests for comment. Arlington is the second-largest Texas city, after Houston, with no law prohibiting discrimination against LGBT people.

Rep. Matt Krause (R-For Worth)
Office of Matt Krause
State Representative Matt Krause (R-For Worth)

Representative Matt Krause, R-Fort Worth, whose district includes AT&T Stadium, has said he plans to reintroduce a sweeping, anti-LGBT religious freedom amendment to the Texas Constitution in 2017. Krause’s proposal is similar to measures that triggered corporate backlash in Arizona and Indiana in recent years, but failed in part due to opposition from the Texas Association of Business, the state’s chamber of commerce.

Since April 2015, more than 1,000 of the state’s employers, including 35 from the Fortune 500, have joined the pro-LGBT business coalition Texas Competes.

Jessica Shortall, managing director for Texas Competes, said the announcements from the NBA and NCAA are part of a growing pattern in which the corporate sector not only sees LGBT discrimination as incompatible with its values, but is increasingly willing to stand up against LGBT discrimination.

“This trend isn’t going away, and it will continue to have deep effects on municipal and state economies,” she said. “The sports community is sending strong and unified signals on this topic, and that’s something that has to have the attention of economic development professionals who work to secure lucrative bookings, as well as of everyday citizens who care about economic health and jobs in their communities.”

John Wright is a freelance journalist based in Austin. Follow him on Twitter and Facebook.

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Published at 12:21 pm CST