By Kaye Foley
North Carolina has been drawing national attention for new legislation that blocks cities and local governments from passing antidiscrimination measures that could protect gay and transgender people. Here’s a closer look at how this law, which is seen as a major step backwards for LGBT rights, came to be.
On Feb. 22, Charlotte, N.C., passed an ordinance expanding North Carolina’s antidiscrimination laws so that LGBT people would also be granted protection in places of “public accommodation” — which, among other things, would allow transgender people to use the bathrooms of the gender they identify as. This ordinance was to go in effect on April 1.
But in response, at a special session on March 23, North Carolina’s General Assembly proposed and passed the House Bill 2 (HB2) — or the “bathroom bill” — and Gov. Pat McCrory signed it into law that same night.
The new law did more than repeal the Charlotte ordinance. It made the state’s law on antidiscrimination — which covers race, religion, national origin, color, age, biological sex and handicaps — the final word. Meaning cities and local governments can’t expand “employment” or “public accommodations” protections to others, such as on the basis of sexual orientation or gender identity.
Minimum wage also falls under the state’s antidiscrimination law, so this law means local governments aren’t able to set their own minimum wages beyond the state standard.
Proponents of the new law say that Charlotte’s measure expanding North Carolina’s antidiscrimination law was governmental overreach by the city. They also argue that this is a matter of safety for women and children in public restrooms and showers. But LGBT activists say that safety hasn’t been an issue in the 18 states or the more than 100 cities where protections for gay and transgender people already exist.
The backlash to the law has been widespread, from officials from other states to dozens of North Carolina-based businesses to national corporations and organizations like ESPN, the NBA, the NCAA, as well as Hollywood filmmakers. A federal lawsuit has been filed challenging the constitutionality of the law and arguing the state could be in violation of Title IX, which would put billions of dollars of federal education funding at risk.
North Carolina isn’t the only state that’s been caught up in these discrimination debates. Since January, almost 200 anti-LGBT bills have been introduced in states, which many people see as reactions to last June’s Supreme Court marriage-equality ruling. Recently, Georgia Gov. Nathan Deal vetoed a religious freedom bill, saying, “I do not think we have to discriminate against anyone to protect the faith-based community in Georgia.”
So, will this North Carolina law bolster like-minded legislators in other states or will it get stopped in its tracks? We’ll have to wait and see. But the next time you hear about North Carolina and the “bathroom bill,” at least you can say, “Now I get it.”