By Colleen Jenkins
WINSTON-SALEM, N.C. (Reuters) - The National Association for the Advancement of Colored People on Friday said it would not hold its convention in North Carolina and urged other organizations to boycott the state in protest of laws adopted by the Republican-led legislature.
The civil rights groups described the move as the first step in an economic boycott that could be expanded in North Carolina and replicated in other states that enact laws limiting voting rights and protections for gay and transgender people.
NAACP leaders asked artists, religious groups, educators and sports leagues to join the effort.
"If we demonstrate the power of the purse, then we will demonstrate the power of democracy," the NAACP's president and CEO, Cornell William Brooks, told reporters in Raleigh.
Brooks did not provide a timeline for a wider boycott, but the organization said an internal task force would explore it.
The NAACP said it was calling for the boycott in response to North Carolina laws such as House Bill 2, which bars transgender people from using government-operated bathrooms that match their gender identity and bans cities from setting a minimum wage above the state level.
The organization said state lawmakers need to create fair election districts that do not dilute the black vote and repeal a new measure seen as weakening the executive powers of newly elected Democratic Governor Roy Cooper.
"What has happened in North Carolina makes this state one of the battlegrounds over the soul of America," said the Rev. William Barber II, president of the North Carolina NAACP chapter.
Conventions, corporations and sports leagues including the National Basketball Association already relocated events or halted new jobs planned for North Carolina after lawmakers passed H.B. 2 last March, costing the state more than $560 million, according to the online magazine Facing South.
So far, however, efforts to repeal the measure have failed.
Senate leader Phil Berger, a Republican, said Cooper should take a stance against the NAACP's boycott.
"It’s time for him to show some leadership as North Carolina’s governor, condemn William Barber’s attempt to inflict economic harm on our citizens, and work toward a reasonable compromise that keeps men out of women’s bathrooms," Berger said in a statement.
(Reporting by Colleen Jenkins; Editing by Leslie Adler)