Civil rights and pro-LGBT groups are currently weighing options to challenge a North Carolina bill signed into law Wednesday that prevents local governments from passing anti-discrimination measures, and in some cases has reversed protections given to transgender and gay people.
House Bill 2 prevents cities, towns, and counties from enacting any local ordinances prohibiting discrimination based on gender identity and sexuality. The bill was shepherded through the state assembly in response to the Charlotte City council passing an ordinance that allowed transgender people to use bathrooms in restaurants, hotels, and other public spaces that corresponds with their identified sex, and prohibited discrimination based on sexual preference or gender identity.
Shortly after Governor Pat McCrory signed HB2 into law Wednesday, the American Civil Liberties Union national and local chapters, Lambda Legal, and Equality North Carolina, released a statement saying they are "reviewing all options, including litigation" to counteract the new state legislation.
"Today was a devastating day for LGBT North Carolinians and particularly our transgender community members who have been subjected to months of distorted rhetoric culminating in today's display of bias and ignorance by North Carolina lawmakers," said Chris Brook, Legal Director of the ACLU of North Carolina. "We are disappointed that Governor McCrory did not do right by North Carolina's families, communities, and businesses by vetoing this horribly discriminatory bill, but this will not be the last word."
Before Charlotte's bathroom ordinance was due to come into effect April 1, Republicans from the House and Senate majorities led the charge to block the ordinance and prevent other localities from passing similar measures. In an unusual maneuver, Senate Democrats refused to vote on the bill and instead walked out of the chamber, leaving Republicans to pass it in a 32-0 vote.
"I cannot recall a time when that's happened. I think it's a serious breach of (the Democrats') obligation to the citizens that voted to elect them," Senate Pro-Tempore Phil Berger told ABC11.
The battle over bathrooms entered into debate over "sexual predators" that may be allowed to enter women's bathrooms — an unproven claim that has been heard many times over in response to similar measures being passed in more than 200 US cities.
McCrory's office released a statement Wednesday night, saying "the basic expectation of privacy in the most personal of settings, a restroom or locker room, for each gender was violated by government overreach and intrusion by the mayor and city council of Charlotte."
"The radical breach of trust and security under the false argument of equal access not only impacts the citizens of Charlotte but people who come to Charlotte to work, visit or play," the statement added. "This new government regulation defies common sense and basic community norms by allowing, for example, a man to use a woman's bathroom, shower, or locker room."
But civil rights groups said the move was unconstitutional and blocked more than just bathroom access for members of the LGBT community.
"This cruel and insulting bill is about more than bathroom access, it's about fairness in employment, education, and local governance," Chris Sgro, Executive Director of Equality NC, said in a statement. "It aims to override local school board policies, local public accommodations laws, and more. This law also violates many other federal statutes and the United States Constitution by attempting to mandate discrimination in government buildings."