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James Beard Committee Cancels North Carolina Visit Due to Controversial Law

Another organization stands up against HB2

North Carolina Clashes With U.S. Over New Public Restroom Law Photo by Sara D. Davis/Getty Images

The controversy surrounding North Carolina’s HB2 shows no signs of waning. The so-called “bathroom bill,” which requires transgender individuals to use public restrooms corresponding to the gender on their birth certificate, has led many to disavow the state’s leadership. Now, one of the biggest names in the culinary world is joining a slew of organizations boycotting the state.

The James Beard Committee was slated to visit Raleigh in January for an annual meeting. But in a statement issued Tuesday, the Committee announced it would not be meeting in North Carolina this year, saying the HB2’s “provisions are contrary to the values of the James Beard Foundation.”

The statement in full:

North Carolina's passage of HB2, more formally known as the Public Facilities Privacy & Security Act, discriminates specifically against the transgendered and reduces civil rights for the entire LGBTQ community. The law's provisions are contrary to the values of the James Beard Foundation; accordingly, the Restaurant and Chef Awards Subcommittee has, by unanimous vote, decided to cancel its planned meeting in that state. This meeting had been planned prior to the passage of HB2; we had hoped that the condemnation by the NCAA, the NBA and the many members of North Carolina's restaurant community, would have persuaded North Carolina's leaders to repeal this outrageous law. As it has not, the subcommittee feels compelled to conduct its business elsewhere.

According to the Susan Ungaro, president of the James Beard Foundation: "It was the Restaurant and Chef Awards Committee who recommended canceling its planned meeting in North Carolina. The James Beard Foundation fully supported their decision."

Earlier this year James Beard Award-Winning chef Ashley Christensen released a statement regarding the law, her refusal to enforce it in her restaurants, and the subsequent backlash of the community in support of the measure:

Thanks so much for your feedback. While we appreciate you taking the time to voice your opinion, we will not be changing the signage on the bathrooms. As a company, we strive to impact our community for the better, which means taking a stand against discriminatory actions (such as HB2), even at the threat of losing your business.

As the News & Observer reports, the move is unusual in that the Beard’s restaurant committee “does not typically disclose the location of its meetings,” as many of its members — including Eater’s own Bill Addison (see editor’s note, below) — are restaurant critics looking to protect their anonymity.

The cancelled meeting will no doubt be a disappointment to restaurateurs and chefs in the area, many of whom look forward to having a slew of big-name critics in town. The North Carolina Restaurant & Lodging Association has not taken a stance on HB2, but has posited that the state’s “restaurants, hotels and their staffs are being adversely impacted” by the bill.

The association would not provide a comment regarding the Beard Foundation committee’s cancelled meeting but did note in a September statement that the hospitality industry has become “collateral damage in a fight it did not start or ask for.” The association also called on the state’s House and Senate to repeal the bill in its entirety.

The James Beard Foundation is only the latest in a line of companies and organizations to cancel events in North Carolina since the bill was signed into law in March. The state has so far lost NCAA and ACC championships, the NBA All-star game, a Bruce Springsteen concert, Cirque du Soleil shows, and numerous other events. Local craft breweries have gotten involved in the debate, too, offering a beer that profits local organizations serving the LGBTQ community.

Committee chair Phil Vettel, the Chicago Tribune’s restaurant critic, told the News & Observer that the Beard’s restaurant committee would consider scheduling another meeting in Raleigh — if the law were to change.

Chef Ashley Christensen Takes to Social Media to Address New Bathroom Legislation [ECHS]
Influential Fine Dining Panel Cancels Visit to Raleigh, Citing HB2 [News & Observer]

Editor’s note: Eater’s restaurant editor and roving national critic Bill Addison is a member of the James Beard Restaurant and Chefs Awards committee. He did not comment on this news.