Advertisement
Share

Why a repeal of North Carolina’s bathroom bill comes with a price for LGBT advocates

Outgoing North Carolina Gov. Pat McCrory requested a special session Monday for lawmakers to consider repealing the state’s controversial law on transgender bathroom access. The move could end a months-long political stalemate over LGBT rights that had dealt a significant blow to the state’s economy and national reputation.

That’s quite the plot twist. The sudden push to address HB2, one of the nation’s most controversial state-level laws, might seem like a shift from last week, when GOP legislators called a surprise special session to limit the power of the new governor, and other incoming Democratic officials.

But the seemingly conciliatory move came at a price for LGBT advocates: Charlotte’s nondiscrimination ordinance, which banned discrimination based on sexual orientation, gender expression and gender identity, had to be repealed first.

The incoming Democratic governor, Roy Cooper, said he had received promises from GOP leaders in the state legislature that HB2 would be repealed if the nondiscrimination ordinance was rolled back.

Advertisement

Hours before McCrory’s announcement, Charlotte’s City Council voted unanimously to remove the ordinance, an unusual move for a major city in 2016.

Charlotte’s law, whose passage was hard-won by liberals in February, is what prompted GOP state legislators to pass HB2 in the first place. Conservatives claimed, with little evidence, that transgender legal protections would encourage sexual predators to invade women’s restrooms. HB2 annulled the protections Charlotte’s ordinance provided and blocked other cities from passing similar policies.

This year, McCrory paid a high price for backing, signing and standing by HB2, a sweeping law that included an unusual requirement for transgender people across the state to use only government bathrooms that matched the genders on their birth certificates.

But the state paid a high price too. The restriction on bathroom use was the first of its kind nationally, and corporations, artists and sports leagues boycotted North Carolina after HB2’s passage by the GOP-dominated General Assembly in March. The backlash probably contributed to McCrory’s defeat in November by Democratic challenger and state Atty. Gen. Cooper, who opposed the law.

Charlotte’s lawmakers have now decided to beat a retreat in exchange for the repeal of HB2, with the support of LGBT advocacy groups like Equality North Carolina and the Human Rights Campaign.

“The Charlotte City Council recognizes the ongoing negative economic impact resulting from the passage of the City’s Non-Discrimination Ordinance and the State’s House Bill 2,” the council explained in a statement requesting that the state repeal HB2. “In order to continue thriving as an inclusive community and compete for high paying jobs and world-class events, the city and state must take action together to restore our collective reputation.”

McCrory’s new move is, in its own way, symbolic of the scorched-earth politics that have taken hold in North Carolina. The state’s legislature has already taken up special sessions – which allow bills to be debated at times when the General Assembly would normally be out of session – four times over the last year, with the rights of transgender residents again hanging in the balance.

“Now that the Charlotte ordinance has finally been repealed, the expectation of privacy in our showers, bathrooms and locker rooms is restored and protected under previous state law,” McCrory said in a video message Monday, in which he blasted his Democratic adversaries as “activists” and said the issue of gender identity would ultimately be resolved by the courts. “You know, this sudden reversal with little notice after the gubernatorial election has ended, sadly proves this entire issue originated by the political left was all about politics at the expense of Charlotte and the entire state of North Carolina.”

Republican Senate leader Phil Berger and House Speaker Tim Moore were even blunter in their criticisms against Cooper and Charlotte Mayor Jennifer Roberts: “Their efforts to force men into women’s bathrooms and shower facilities was a political stunt to drive out-of-state money into the governor’s race,” the men said in a statement, adding that they had long promised to take up a repeal of HB2 if Charlotte rescinded its ordinance. (A representative for Roberts did not respond to an interview request.)

Some transgender activists were bewildered by the news Monday, and said they were feeling deeply conflicted. “My phone has been exploding today,” said Erica Lachowitz, a transgender Charlotte woman. “It’s a big blow. A lot of us, including myself, are very angry…. It’s amazing how our rights get put up for debate in negotiation.”

In an anti-HB2 Facebook group started by Lachowitz, some of its 7,000 members shared their dismay Monday with comments including, “Why did they cave???” “Utterly disgusted,” and “I am so sad that Charlotte caved to the thuggery of the General Assembly.”

“Bittersweet, this pill,” Lachowitz said in an interview. But, Lachowitz added, “I feel like we have to take a step back to go forward at this point…. I’m angry that it feels like my rights don’t matter, but at the same time, I know that if we don’t do this, nothing will move forward.”

Roberta Dunn, a Charlotte-area transgender woman, was less optimistic, calling the compromise “a total loss for the transgender community.”

“I walked out of a doctor’s office this morning and got in the car and turned the radio on and had a heart attack right on the spot,” Dunn said of hearing the news. “We’re back to square one, with a lot of [transgender] people losing jobs and opportunities, and the state is totally rejecting any rights for LGBTQ people.”

Dunn said that things wouldn’t be just going back to the way they were before Charlotte passed its nondiscrimination ordinance and the state passed HB2.

“Before those two things were passed, people didn’t really know anything about transgender people. They just looked the other way and didn’t care,” Dunn said. But during the state’s discussions over transgender rights, “The message that came out of the religious right and the Republican Party was that men could dress up as women and go in and rape women, and be pedophiles and go after little children.”

Those kind of baseless allegations weren’t being made before the laws were passed, said Dunn. Even if HB2 gets repealed, Dunn said, there is now a public perception that “we’re still perverts who go out and rape children, and it’s hard to repeal that.”

ALSO

Why our presidents are elected by a clique of elites

In North Carolina, defeated GOP governor signs law to weaken his Democratic successor

Is North Carolina’s GOP doing the right thing for the wrong reason?


UPDATES:

6:00 p.m.: This article was updated with Times reporting.

This article was originally published at 8:00 a.m.


Advertisement