BY ZACK FORD – – – –
Wednesday was a whirlwind day in North Carolina’s government. The legislature convened a special session, a complicated multi-part bill was introduced, it passed through the House and Senate — both Republican controlled — and Gov. Pat McCrory (R) signed it into law. Just like that, North Carolina became the state with the most hostile laws against LGBT people in the country.
Targeting Charlotte for passing its recent LGBT nondiscrimination ordinance, the sweeping legislation preempts municipal nondiscrimination ordinances, essentially making it illegal for cities and counties to extend protections to the LGBT community. Only two other states, Arkansas and Tennessee, have such a law, but North Carolina’s bill goes much further. It also bans transgender people from using restrooms that match their gender unless they’ve managed to change their birth certificate, and prevents civil suits from being filed in state court even when discrimination is documented by the already-poorly-funded Human Rights Commission. On top of all the anti-LGBT measures, the legislation went further and prohibited cities from mandating any employment compensation (minimum wage, benefits, etc.) beyond what is offered at the state level.
Gleefully signing the bill that he openly called for, McCrory claimed that “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.” Calling the ordinance a “radical breach of trust and security under the false argument of equal access,” he said that he believes it “defies common sense and basic community norms by allowing, for example, a man to use a woman’s bathroom, shower or locker room.”
In a video statement, Lt. Gov. Dan Forest (R) added that “the loophole this ordinance created would have given pedophiles, sex offenders, and perverts free reign to watch women, boys, and girls undress and use the bathroom.”
What is perhaps most troubling about the passage of this law in North Carolina is that it could pave the way for other states to also target the transgender community for discrimination. South Dakota’s may have been vetoed, but Tennessee’s supposedly dead bill has already been revived this week as several other states continue to introduce theirs.
Kansas lawmakers are considering a bill that would ban transgender people from bathrooms and allow people to sue schools and government agencies if they saw transgender people in their facilities. Republicans in Minnesota’s legislature have similarly introduced a bill targeting public restrooms — albeit without the lawsuit provision. And when the Michigan Department of Education announced this week that it was considering some protections for transgender students, it prompted a GOP backlash that could result in legislation to either overturn or block them.
What happened in North Carolina could prove to be the deadly recipe that helps these other discriminatory bills actually make it across the finish line. Indeed, the rushed special session was a perfect recipe for avoiding all of the various resistance that has held back these bills from even being considered in previous years.
For example, the bill’s language was only made public mere minutes before it was considered. The committee first tasked with voting on it had to request to even have five minutes to read it. There was only a total of 30 minutes of public comment, meaning there was basically no opportunity for public input. (Polling showed that there was bipartisan opposition across the state to overturning Charlotte’s ordinance.)
This meant that transgender people did not have the notice or option of traveling to the capitol to share their stories. Businesses had no opportunity to chime in about the economic impact on the state. Though companies like Dow Chemical, Biogen, and Red Hat software tweeted their opposition during the day, it was too little too late. In short, the anti-transgender motives of the lawmakers eager to pass this legislation did not have to pass through any filters before it became law.
The very opposite is happening in Georgia. Gov. Nathan Deal (R) has until May 3 to consider an anti-LGBT bill that has been widely scorned. Just this week, Disney and Marvel promised to pull out of the state if he signs it, following pressure from other companies like Apple and the NFL that have made similar threats, including not bringing the Super Bowl to the state. This was after plenty of public debate during the many weeks the legislature spent considering and amending the bill.
The test for North Carolina will be to see what political and legal consequences there will be for the lawmakers who rushed this legislation through. Democratic National Chair Debbie Wasserman Schultz (D-FL) scorned the Republican party for being “stuck in the Stone Age on LGBT equality.” Denouncing North Carolina’s lawmakers for “steamrolling over local officials just because they had the courage to stand up for transgender rights,” she promised that “our friends in the LGBT community deserve better and so do all the people of North Carolina.”
The new law also flies in the face of Title IX, which protects against discrimination on the basis of sex in education. The Federal Department of Education has interpreted this law to include protections for people who identify as transgender. If North Carolina schools are prohibited by state law from accommodating transgender students, they could risk losing $4 billion in federal funding statewide.
Whether a legislative turnover in November or these legal consequences will ever correct this new law, transgender people will be left wondering if there is any safe place for them to use the bathroom in the meantime.