The North Carolina Bathroom Bill Update Offers Rare Good News From 2016
One of the few surprising bright spots amid generally depressing election results is the Democratic governor's victory in North Carolina. After more than a month of contesting the results, incumbent Republican Gov. Pat McCrory finally conceded the race to his Democratic challenger, former Attorney General Roy Cooper, on Dec. 5. Now, there's more potential good news coming out of North Carolina: The state's transphobic "bathroom bill," known as House Bill 2, could be history in a matter of days.
McCrory has reportedly agreed to call another special legislative session to "consider" the repeal of HB2, according to Raleigh newspaper The News & Observer. That consideration is only possible because lawmakers allegedly struck a deal with the Charlotte City Council, which passed a pro-LGBT ordinance back in February, and the Republican-controlled state legislature drafted and passed HB2 in March in response. The News & Observer reported that, according to the deal, Republican lawmakers agreed to repeal HB2 after the Charlotte City Council repealed its ordinance — which had already been rendered ineffective by the sweeping state law.
The Charlotte City Council voted unanimously on Dec. 19 to repeal its pro-LGBT public accommodations ordinance, which had added gender identity protections to the city's public accommodations code. The 10-0 vote to repeal the ordinance was taken under the expectation that the state legislature will subsequently repeal HB2, as early as Dec. 20, according to The Wall Street Journal.
Governor-elect Cooper, who as attorney general refused to defend HB2 in court, celebrated the news that the law which made North Carolina infamous as a "hate state" could soon be a distant, if unpleasant and damaging, memory. The News & Observer reported that Cooper himself lobbied city council members, making phone calls late into the night on Sunday.
Since Charlotte's city council kept up its end of the bargain on Monday, all eyes are once again on Gov. McCrory, who is responsible for calling another special session. However, some doubts remain as to whether the outgoing ruling party will stay true to its word.
McCrory had long called for the repeal of the Charlotte ordinance, which he often called "government overreach," but his response to the modest ordinance — which ensured transgender people could use the facilities that best correspond with their gender identity — was unquestionably outsized. HB2, which was introduced, passed through both legislative chambers, and signed by McCrory in less than 24 hours, not only struck down all LGBT-inclusive ordinances in the state, but effectively barred transgender people from using the appropriate restrooms in government-owned buildings, including across University of North Carolina campuses.
McCrory and his fellow Republicans attempted to justify HB2 by using a provably false transphobic scare-tactic that implies allowing transgender people to use appropriate facilities somehow endangers women and children. (For the record, it absolutely does not.) As originally passed, HB2 also revoked the right for any citizen to sue for employment discrimination based on gender, race, or any other protected class. McCrory amended that provision in July, restoring some workers' rights in the state, but left the anti-LGBT provisions wholly intact. In response, the U.S. Department of Justice filed a civil rights lawsuit against North Carolina.
If Republicans do in fact repeal HB2, that federal lawsuit would become moot, and North Carolina could start the new year free of state-sanctioned discrimination. It would be a refreshing start to a year that will almost certainly see LGBT rights rolled back in other ways, judging by the uniformly anti-LGBT history of the incoming administration. The potential defeat of HB2, combined with Cooper's electoral victory in a state that also voted for Donald Trump, serves as a powerful rebuke to the claim that Democrats lost the national election because they focused too much on "identity politics."
North Carolina's controversial law — and McCrory's stalwart defense of it, even in the face of millions in lost business deals, canceled concerts, and statewide boycotts — may have cost him re-election, according to Mother Jones. If that's the case, Republicans about to assume power should think twice before taking aim at the transgender community.