The Atlantic Coast Conference struck a blow for equality and enlightenment last week by moving its collegiate championships out of North Carolina in response to a new state law that curbs anti-discrimination protections for gay, transgender and bisexual people. This is an appropriate use of the conference's visibility and muscle, and it should signal to elected officials that discriminatory political decisions have consequences.
North Carolina's legislature passed a bill in March nullifying local government protections that extended some rights on the basis of sexual orientation. The so-called "bathroom bill" barred people from using bathrooms that did not correspond with the gender contained on their birth certificates. In a statement, the ACC said the core values of the association were at stake, and that it was paramount to oppose "any form of discrimination." The move followed a decision by the NCAA only two days earlier to also move its title games from North Carolina, which also has lost concerts and the NBA All-Star game.
Gov. Pat McCrory, who signed the bill into law, lamented the move and implored critics not to punish North Carolina with what he called "economic threats or political retaliation." What should North Carolina expect? The state's political leaders made a calculated decision to take on this cultural war and join the wrong side. Now they need to live with the consequences. The move is expected to cost the state tens of millions of dollars in lost business, aside from the negative advertising, and deals a blow to its image and ability to compete for future events.
North Carolina didn't learn from the same mistake Indiana made last year, when it hustled to fix a "religious freedom" law that major American companies and civic leaders blasted as anti-gay, sparking a major backlash from the business community.
The ACC was right to put its money and prestige on the line for principle. Student-athletes are students first, and there is no lesson in life more fundamental than accepting that people are equal. Higher education is the right place to send that essential message. And by sending it to sports-crazy North Carolina, the ACC has laid down an important marker across the nation. Major institutions have a responsibility to shape their communities for the better, not look the other way at discrimination.