After nine months of boycotts and lost business deals in North Carolina, the state’s lawmakers may be ready to finally quit HB2, the state’s dreaded anti-LGBTQ law.
HB2, which the state legislature passed in March, overturned and banned local statutes that protect LGBTQ people from discrimination. It also prohibited transgender people from using bathrooms that align with their gender identity in schools and government buildings. Sarah McBride of the Human Rights Campaign called it “one of the most extreme, anti-LGBT bills we've seen yet.” And the law quickly led to a huge backlash, with businesses like PayPal and the NBA pulling projects from the state in protest.
That all may be coming to an end with a compromise announced on Monday.
North Carolina originally passed its anti-LGBTQ law in response to the city of Charlotte passing a local ordinance that protected LGBTQ people from discrimination in public accommodations (restaurants, hotels, and other businesses that serve the public), which included a provision that required businesses to let trans people use bathrooms that align with their gender identity.
So on Monday, the Charlotte City Council met to repeal its local ordinance — under an apparent deal that the North Carolina legislature will hold a special session this week to then repeal the state’s anti-LGBTQ law.
“Senate Leader Phil Berger and House Speaker Tim Moore assured me that as a result of Charlotte’s vote, a special session will be called for Tuesday to repeal HB2 in full,” Governor-elect Roy Cooper, a Democrat, said in a statement.
Gov. Pat McCrory, a Republican who lost his bid for reelection (in part thanks to voter opposition to the anti-LGBTQ law) confirmed the deal in a separate statement, calling for a special session to repeal HB2.
HB2’s repeal comes with a big catch
The deal truly is a compromise. On one hand, Charlotte has undone its public accommodations protections for LGBTQ people. On the other hand, North Carolina’s law technically overturned Charlotte’s ordinance and made it unenforceable anyway, while adding explicitly anti-LGBTQ language to state law. This means that repealing HB2 could benefit more people across the state than one city’s law could have helped.
The upshot seems to be that cities and counties in North Carolina will now be able to pass and enforce LGBTQ protections — which don’t exist under state law — as long as they avoid the bathroom issue. They should be able to protect LGBTQ people from discrimination in the workplace, housing, education, and public accommodations, but only to some extent.
If cities and counties try to get into the bathroom issue again, they could spark yet another retaliatory law, like HB2, from the state legislature. (Still, the incoming governor, Roy Cooper, actively campaigned against HB2 and would likely veto such a measure. Republicans have a veto-proof majority for now, but it’s unclear if enough of them would be willing to restart the same battle over LGBTQ rights after going through nine months of controversy with HB2.)
HB2 was built on a myth
Although HB2 was sweeping in that it overturned all LGBTQ protections, North Carolina Republicans were particularly focused on the bathroom issue. They claim letting trans people use the bathroom that aligns with their gender identity will enable men to pose as women, sneak into women’s bathrooms, and sexually assault or harass women.
There is no evidence for this: Several states and dozens of cities have laws protecting LGBTQ people from discrimination, and none have reported a rise in sexual assaults or harassment in bathrooms as a result of those laws.
For trans people, the problem is that North Carolina is trying to push them into acting as someone they’re not. Forcing trans people to use the bathroom that doesn’t align with their gender identity acts as a reminder that, as far as society has come on some LGBTQ issues, it’s still not completely willing to accept trans people and their identities — even if trans people pose no danger to anyone else.
And if trans people do use the bathroom that aligns with their gender identity under laws like HB2, they have to fear getting caught as they break the law. As Lily Carollo wrote for Vox, “From now until the law is repealed or settled in court, or until my birth certificate is amended, I will keep breaking the law. I’m not the only one. I will be an anxious mess every time I use the bathroom, but I don’t see any option. It’s all I can do, really. I am a woman.”
But the bathroom myth, pushed by North Carolina Republicans, was taken seriously enough by the legislature to enshrine it into law. Yet after nine months of controversy, it all may soon come to an end.