Dist 58 constituents ask, “Who is Chris Sgro?”By Yasmine Regester / April 14, 2016
Chris Sgro, executive director of Equality NC, a gay rights advocacy group, has been picked to lead NC House District 58 in the upcoming legislative short session, set to reconvene on April 25.
Members of the Guilford County Democratic Party’s Executive Committee, elected Sgro on April 9 to fulfill the unexpired term of the late Rep. Ralph C. Johnson, who died on Primary Election Day, March 15. The vote passed, 25-15. In addition to Sgro, Dr. Rev. T. Anthony Spearman, 3rd Vice President of the N.C. NAACP, was also nominated for the position.
Reverend Amos Quick, who won the District 58 Democratic Primary on March 15, is scheduled to take the seat in January 2017 and has said he will finish his Guilford County School Board term first.
“While I look forward to serving N.C. House District 58 beginning in January, as I was elected to do,” says Quick, “I am also committed to finishing my term as Vice-Chairman of the Guilford County Board of Education and helping to complete the important work that remains for us to do. I look forward to working together with Mr. Chris Sgro, to advocate for the concerns and needs of all constituents of N.C. House District 58 – especially the African American community, who make up the majority of this district – as he fulfills the unexpired term of the late Representative Ralph Johnson.”
An African American has historically held the House District 58 seat. Alma Adams represented newly redistricted House District 58 from 2002 until 2014, when she was elected to the U.S. Congress (12th District). Johnson won the District 58 seat in 2014 and was running for re-election in the 2016 Elections. According to the most recent U.S. Census Bureau data from 2013, District 58 is 51.6 percent African American.
“I thought we needed to continue to have an African American in that seat,” said Spearman, who noted that the district is facing more issues than just HB 2. “The LGBT community isn’t the most marginalized by this bill. If you read the whole bill, it stomps on the 14th Amendment rights of everyone.”
Sgro will continue to serve as Equality NC Executive Director while undertaking his new role as a political representative. He previously served as Director of Economic Development for U.S. Senator Kay Hagan. He was a founding member of LGBT Democrats of North Carolina and has served as treasurer for the LGBT Democrats of Guilford County.
Equality NC is one of a group of organizations that filed a lawsuit against the state over HB 2, which also includes Lambda Legal, the American Civil Liberties Union, and the ACLU of North Carolina.
A resident of Greensboro for more than 10 years, and a member of the Guilford County Democratic Party, Sgro said he had no intention of seeking the seat long-term.
“I’m really excited that the Guilford County Democratic Party has given me the opportunity to represent the LGBT community as its only out member during the upcoming short session,” said Sgro. “HB 2 and its repeal make it more critical than ever to have an out LGBT person. We can’t just have conversations that impact different parts of our community without members of those communities at the legislature.”
Although Sgro will have little time to learn the needs of the district, Myra Slone, Democratic Party Chair, said that she believes Sgro will be able to handle the challenge.
“House Bill 2 has a lot of discriminatory measures that affect everyone,” said Slone. “We expect him [Sgro] to be working on everyone’s behalf and not just the LGBT community. He will be responsible for addressing everything that comes up during the short session, not just House Bill 2.”
HB 2 mandates that individuals use the bathroom assigned to their biological sex as stated on one’s birth certificate and bars local governments from enacting ordinances that would offer citywide protections to the LGBTQ community. The law went further to forbid local governments from setting a mandate or provision that requires a private contractor to follow certain employment or wage requirements in order to participate in city contracting.
On Tuesday, April 12, North Carolina Gov. Pat McCrory issued an Executive Order eliminating part of the new law which prohibits workers from being able to sue an employer in state court over discrimination or wrongful termination. The law initially made it so such cases would have to be filed in federal court. The Executive Order also gives local governments and the private sector the right to establish its own non-discrimination employment policies and expands the state’s employment policy for state employees to cover sexual orientation and gender identity. While local governments and schools still must follow state guidelines regarding gender-specific restrooms and locker rooms, the private sector is now permitted to create its own bathroom policy. Critics of HB 2 say the law is still very harmful and it should be repealed all together.
“While the legislation was squarely aimed at the LBGT community, especially transgendered people, the impacts are much deeper than that. It makes our vibrant cities and towns weaker. It makes it almost impossible to bring any discrimination claims on the basis of race, gender and sex,” said Sgro.
Sgro noted that repealing HB 2 would not just be a top priority for Democrats, but also Republicans who have seen the state lose revenue after the passage of HB 2. Most recently, Deutsche Bank, a Frankfurt, Germany based bank, has canceled its planned expansion in Cary, N.C., while many other conventions are also halting plans in the state. PayPal canceled a planned $3.6 million expansion in Charlotte that would have created 400 jobs; Red Hat, Biogen, and Dow Chemical, all Raleigh-based companies, have spoken in opposition to the law, as well as businesses like American Airlines, IBM, Apple, Google, the NCAA (National Collegiate Athletic Association) and the NBA (National Basketball Association), which stated the legislation would have an ihmpact on whether the 2017 All Star Game would still be held in Charlotte.
The N.C. NAACP has also shown its opposition to HB 2, with State President, Rev. Dr. William J. Barber II, calling for a mass teach-in and sit-in at the short session of the legislature on April 25, if the law is not repealed by April 21.
“I’m going to be a strong voice for LGBT people, but I also understand there are a huge number of other issues as we come to debate the budget, renewable energy and workforce development that impacts District 58 and greater Greensboro,” said Sgro.