CLAIM

The man leading opposition to a controversial "bathroom bill" in North Carolina is a registered sex offender.

MIXTURE

RATING

MIXTURE

WHAT'S TRUE

Charlotte businessman Chad Sevearance was convicted of sexual contact with minors in 1998 and supported Charlotte's anti-discrimination ordinance.

WHAT'S FALSE

Sevearance was not the "leader" of efforts in Charlotte or North Carolina regarding bathroom-related ordinances.

ORIGIN

In late February 2016, social media users began sharing links and memes affirming that the leader of opposition to a North Carolina bathroom ordinance was a registered sex offender:

sevearance chad charlotte

 

On 7 March 2016, the web site Breitbart published an article (titled “Convicted Sex Offender Leads Transgender Rights Effort in North Carolina”) which held that the “leader of efforts” to “allow men to use women’s bathrooms” was a convicted, registered sex offender. The article reported that an individual named Chad Sevearance had spearheaded opposition to an ambiguously referenced ordinance involving transgender people and bathrooms:

The homosexual leader of efforts in North Carolina to allow men to use women’s bathrooms is a convicted and registered sex offender, according to documents made available to Breitbart News.

Chad Sevearance is president of the Charlotte Business Guild … [he] and his group have taken a lead role in seeking the right to allow males to use the restrooms and showers of females, including those of little girls, which is described by advocates as nothing more than nondiscrimination measures. Sevearance was quoted in the Charlotte Observer saying that because a recent bathroom “nondiscrimination ordinance” bill did not pass, “someone can ask me to leave a restaurant because I’m presumed to be gay or transgender.”

That article went on to explain that Sevearance was arrested in 1998 at the age of 20 for engaging in sexual acts with teenaged boys:

In 1998, Sevearance worked as a youth minister and in that capacity allegedly lured younger men to his apartment to spend the night where Severance showed them pornography and tried to talk them into sex. One boy testified that he woke up to find Severance “fondling him.” Severance was convicted on one charge of sexual molestation of a minor.

As a result of his 2000 conviction, Sevearance must register with the police on a regular basis for a minimum of ten years. His most recent mug shot and registration took place at the end of last year.

The details of that piece of information is verifiable: Sevearance’s sex offender registry page is accessible here, and details of the ensuing court case were published in a July 2000 article. However, the Breitbart piece offered little context regarding the effort Sevearance purportedly headed and whether he was truly the primary opponent of the (unreferenced) legislation in question.

The online rumor involving Sevearance mentioned a “boys-in-girls-bathrooms” bill while simultaneously describing homosexual acts between teenaged male minors and a 20-year-old man. At the time of the rumor’s circulation, a cluster of controversies were occurring in North Carolina over gender, sexual orientation, and bathrooms (leading to confusion among viewers who spotted related memes on Facebook).

The most nationally prominent of the controversies was one surrounding a law known as HB2 (or the “Public Facilities Privacy and Security Act”), which the Charlotte Observer described as a “sweeping law that reverses a Charlotte ordinance that had extended some rights to people who are gay or transgender”:

The state has long had laws regulating workplace discrimination, use of public accommodations, minimum wage standards and other business issues. The new law — known as HB2, the Charlotte bathroom bill or, more officially, as the Public Facilities Privacy and Security Act — makes it illegal for cities to expand upon those state laws, as more than a dozen cities had done including Charlotte, Raleigh, Chapel Hill and Durham.

North Carolina’s new law sets a statewide definition of classes of people who are protected against discrimination: race, religion, color, national origin, age, handicap or biological sex as designated on a person’s birth certificate. Sexual orientation – people who are gay – was never explicitly protected under state law and is not now, despite recent court decisions that legalized same-sex marriage.

Transgender people who have not taken surgical and legal steps to change the gender noted on their birth certificates have no legal right under state law to use public restrooms of the gender with which they identify. Cities and counties no longer can establish a different standard. Critics of the Charlotte ordinance cite privacy concerns and say it was “social engineering” to allow people born as biological males to enter women’s restrooms … The law limits how people pursue claims of discrimination because of race, religion, color, national origin, biological sex or handicap in state courts.

Sevearance was not mentioned or referenced in that newspaper article, which described opposition to HB2 as broad:

Advocacy groups, including the ACLU and Equality North Carolina, say they will soon take legal action. State ACLU legal director Chris Brook said Friday that a federal lawsuit by his group and others will be filed within days, not weeks. How quickly those expected lawsuits will be resolved is not yet known. Challenges to Amendment 1, the state’s constitutional amendment banning same-sex marriage, were filed shortly after it was passed in 2012, and were resolved in 2014. A lawsuit by a group of Charlotte lawyers is pending against North Carolina’s law passed in 2015 that allows magistrates and register of deeds employees to decline to handle same-sex marriages based on conflict with their spiritual beliefs.

On 24 March 2016, The Atlantic explained that HB2 was drafted in reaction to a local Charlotte ordinance that had failed to pass in 2015, but was approved in 2016:

[L]egislators returned to the state house to overrule a local ordinance in Charlotte banning discrimination against LGBT people. A bill written for that purpose passed and was signed by Governor Pat McCrory, a Republican. In the House, every Republican and 11 Democrats backed the bill. In the Senate, Democrats walked out when a vote was called, resulting in a 32-0 passage by Republicans. The law not only overturns Charlotte’s ban: It also prevents any local governments from passing their own non-discrimination ordinances, mandates that students in the state’s schools use bathrooms corresponding to the gender on their birth certificate, and prevents cities from enacting minimum wages higher than the state’s.

Although the push to preempt city laws failed as the clock ran out, Charlotte’s new ordinance created a new impetus. McCrory, a former mayor of Charlotte, opposed the law but declined to call a special session, so on Monday lawmakers did so themselves. On Wednesday, members who could make it in time traipsed back to Raleigh to overturn the Charlotte rule. (Some missed the session, saying they did not have time to travel.) What exactly would be in the bill remained a mystery almost up to the moment the session gaveled in—the text was made public just minutes ahead of time.

Once released, it was clear that the legislative language was more sweeping than expected. Not only does it prevent local governments from writing ordinances that allow people to use the bathroom corresponding to the gender with with they identify, it also preempts cities from passing their own nondiscrimination standards, saying the state’s rules—which are more conservative—supersede localities. Local school district would be barred from allowing transgender students to use bathrooms or locker rooms that don’t correspond to the gender listed on their birth certificate.

We contacted a reporter credited for that comprehensive article, who had never spoken to Sevearance about HB2. We asked whether Sevearance was a key opponent of HB2, and the reporter said opposition was led by groups such Equality NC (but didn’t mention the Charlotte Business Guild).

However, Chad Sevearance was one of several individuals quoted in a Charlotte Observer article about the defeat of Charlotte’s proposed non-discrimination ordinance, but that article was published in 2015, not 2016:

In the emotionally charged debate, business concerns took a backseat to bitter disputes about whether transgender people should be allowed to use the bathroom of their choice. But business issues wove through the debate as well.

On the other hand, supporters of the ordinance said that by rejecting the measure, Charlotte would be sending a bad message to potential employees and businesses considering relocating to the city. They pointed out that many Fortune 500 companies have had nondiscrimination policies in place for years.

“As upper management in a Charlotte-based company, I will simply second the opinion … that (the proposed ordinance) is good for business in Charlotte,” Peter Barr, general counsel for Charlotte-based Rack Room Shoes, told City Council. He said he is the father of a transgender son, and that he was speaking as a private citizen and father, not representing his employer.

On 12 April 2016, the Washington Post reported that North Carolina governor Pat McCrory had signed an executive order walking back portions of HB2, but McCrory cited Charlotte’s ordinance as “overreach” and left the bathroom provision of HB2 intact:

North Carolina Gov. Pat McCrory (R) responded to a backlash against the state’s new law banning anti-discrimination protections for gay and transgender people by signing an executive order aimed at calming the firestorm, even as he left the most controversial provisions intact.

McCrory said he was expanding protections for state employees, which would prevent these workers from being fired for being gay or transgender. He also said he would seek legislation restoring the right to sue for discrimination.

In his order, McCrory stopped short of altering the bill’s most high-profile provision mandating that transgender people use bathrooms that correspond only with the gender on their birth certificate.

McCrory defended the state law as being needed to respond to what he called the “government overreach” of a Charlotte city ordinance that expanded civil rights protections for people based on sexual orientation and gender identity. In a videotaped message announcing the order, he said the issue had sparked what he called “selective outrage and hypocrisy.”

Chad Sevearance and the controversy surrounding him were not major threads in the ongoing story of HB2. Bruce Springsteen made national news by cancelling a show in protest of the bill, a sign spotted in a Georgia Kroger went viral in its wake, and inaccurate rumors about mixed-gender restrooms at a Pilot Travel Center in the state blanketed social media during the controversy.

In response to our inquiry, Equality NC‘s Director of Operations, Shawn Long, clarified who was primarily responsible for leading the efforts against HB2 —namely multiple large in- and out-of-state groups:

North Carolina’s discriminatory HB2 is being challenged in federal court by Equality NC, Lambda Legal, the ACLU, and the ACLU of North Carolina on the grounds that (i) it is directed with animus specifically towards the LGBT community, treating them as second-class citizens, (ii) it is unconstitutional because it violates equal protection and due process by discriminating on the basis of sex and sexual orientation and is an invasion of privacy for trans individuals, and (iii) the law violates federal Title IX requirements by discriminating against students on the basis of sex.

In addition to the advocacy groups involved in the lawsuit, a broad coalition of groups is opposing HB2 within the state, including statewide groups like Equality NC, the ACLU of NC, and the NAACP of NC, as well as national groups like HRC. Hundreds of major CEOs and corporations, as well as hundreds of local businesses are also opposing this law since it encourages anti-LGBT discrimination, as are cities and municipalities whose autonomy has been removed by the law. Among these cities opposing HB2 is Charlotte, who adopted the initial nondiscrimination policy that the statewide government (over)reacted to, a policy already adopted by hundreds of cities across the country and 19 states and the District of Columbia, all without any documented safety issue.

It is true Chad Sevearance was charged with and convicted of sexual contact with teenaged boys when he was 20, and he was quoted as opposing HB2 (because “someone can ask me to leave a restaurant because I’m presumed to be gay or transgender”) on 3 March 2015, but to term him the “leader” of opposition to HB2, or even a major player in the Charlotte ordinance that inspired it, is an exaggeration.

In March 2016, following heavy criticism from conservative groups, Sevearance stepped down from his position as president of Charlotte’s LGBT Chamber of Commerce, rendering the claims about his role in the opposition to HB2 even less accurate.

Sources:

Berman, Mark.    “North Carolina Governor Says He Wants Bathroom Law Partially Changed After Backlash.”
      The Washington Post.     12 April 2016.

Gordon, Michael et al.     “North Carolina’s Newest Law Solidifies State’s Role in Defining Discrimination.”
      Charlotte Observer.     26 March 2016.

Graham, David A.     “North Carolina Overturns LGBT-Discrimination Bans.”
      The Atlantic.     24 March 2016.

Harrison, Steve A.     “Charlotte City Council Approves LGBT Protections in 7-4 Vote.”
     Charlotte Observer.     22 February 2016.

McFadden, Jonathan et al.     “Business Community Split After LGBT Ordinance Fails.”
     Charlotte Observer.     3 March 2015.

Woodcock, Julie.     “Music Minister Fondled Us, Claim Youths in Gaffney Church.”
     GoUpstate.com.     20 July 2000.

Harrison, Steve.     “LGBT Chamber President Steps Down After Criticism of His Sex-Offender Status.”
      Charlotte Observer.     9 March 2016.