Today, in rapid succession, the North Carolina State House and the State Senate voted to force an unprecedented bill through the legislature that: would eliminate existing municipal non-discrimination protections for LGBT people; would prevent such provisions from being passed by cities in the future; and would force transgender students to use restrooms and other facilities inconsistent with their gender identity, putting billions of dollars in federal funding under Title IX at risk. The Human Rights Campaign, the nation’s LGBT civil rights organization, and Equality North Carolina decried the reckless efforts of the North Carolina legislature to rush this anti-LGBT discrimination into state law. The bill passed the Senate 32-0 after Senate Democrats walked out of the chamber in protest and now heads to the desk of Gov. Pat McCrory.
“When transgender North Carolinians report experiencing shocking rates of discrimination in their everyday lives, it should be an easy decision for Gov. McCrory to reject and veto this bill -- or any piece of legislation that enables discrimination,” said JoDee Winterhof, Senior Vice President of Policy and Political Affairs. “The only thing worse than disrespecting the carefully considered non-discrimination ordinance passed by the Charlotte City Council earlier this year is that the legislature has chosen to vent its frustration by punishing innocent transgender children who are simply trying to get an education. This behavior shows that the North Carolina Legislature has learned nothing from the experience of other states who became examples of how this extreme anti-LGBT legislation can backfire.”
“Today’s vote at the NCGA represents politics at its worst. Senator Berger and Speaker Moore should be ashamed of misleading their members to vote for the worst anti-LGBT legislation in the nation, which is sweeping beyond comprehension,” said Chris Sgro, Executive Director of Equality NC. “Protections for LGBT people against discrimination are common sense. This special session, where Berger and Moore rammed through hastily-crafted legislation was a farce of public policy. It is incumbent upon Governor McCrory to veto this bill immediately. Companies like Dow Chemical, Red Hat, and Biogen as well as the League of Municipalities, are saying this is the wrong thing to do. Governor - please do your job and protect us from this terrible overreach.”
The debate today is happening in a state where discrimination is a persistent problem in the LGBT community. North Carolina is one of 32 states that lacks a fully inclusive statewide non-discrimination law that includes sexual orientation and gender identity. The National Center for Transgender Equality and the National LGBTQ Task Force reported that in a survey of transgender people living in North Carolina, half of respondents had been harassed or discriminated against in public places like hotels, restrooms, restaurants and other public services. The nearly 30,000 transgender students in North Carolina shouldn’t have to suffer the consequences of a discriminatory law that will lead to even higher rates of harassment, bullying, and even suicide. A new academic study recently found a direct correlation between high rates of suicide in the transgender community and lack of equal access to public spaces.
In a hurried single-day session convened today, public comment was extremely limited and members were given very little time to give this extraordinary bill the kind of scrutiny it deserved. In an attempt to rush the bill through today, the House Committee limited speakers to two minutes and legislators only had five-minutes to review this bill. Contrast that with two years of deliberation by the Charlotte City Council, which heard hours of public comment from constituents on both sides and in fact campaigned on the issue during elections this past fall. The actions of the state legislature are insulting to the Charlotte City Council, Charlotte residents, and all local governments whose decisions are subject to irresponsible second-guessing at the taxpayer’s expense.
The debate may have been rushed, but it didn’t escape notice: Dow Chemical, the NCAA , RedHat and the League of Municipalities have already spoken out against the bill. It is important to note that in fact, more than 75 percent of Fortune 500 companies have continued to function successfully with non-discrimination protections in place similar to those in Charlotte’s without disruption of their business or any need to create new facilities. the costly creation of new facilities or significant disruption of their businesses.
If Gov. Pat McCrory signs this bill into law, North Carolina would be the first state in the country to enact an anti-transgender student bathroom bill after several similar laws were rejected across the country this year, including a high-profile veto by the Governor of South Dakota. North Carolina school districts that comply with the law would then be in direct violation of Title IX, subjecting the school districts to liability and putting an estimated $4.5 billion of federal funding at risk. This section of this horrible bill offers costly supposed solutions to non-existent problems, and it would force schools to choose between complying with federal law -- plus doing the right thing for their students -- and complying with a state law that violates students’ civil rights. Read more about how this bill puts federal funding at risk here.
Another far-reaching consequence of this bill is the municipal preemption language that voids Charlotte’s ordinance, as well as other ordinances in the state, and takes away the ability of cities to implement their own non-discrimination protections in the future. What’s more, Huffington Post today reported that the bill would strip away local non-discrimination protections for veterans in at least two local jurisdictions.
Last month, by a 7-4 vote, and with the strong support of newly elected Mayor Jennifer Roberts, the Charlotte City Council advanced citywide non-discrimination protections based on sexual orientation and gender identity in public accommodations, as well as city contracting. Since the pro-equality vote, dozens of North Carolina lawmakers have made baseless claims about the transgender community by referring to the ordinance as a “bathroom bill” that it a threat to “public safety” and “privacy.”
Charlotte’s non-discrimination ordinance is not merely about access to bathrooms. Anti-LGBT activists continue to label the nondiscrimination ordinance a “bathroom bill” -- and, preying on misinformation and ignorance, these anti-LGBT activists have smeared transgender people and suggested they are a danger to women and girls in public restrooms. In reality, the people most in danger of being unsafe in a restroom are transgender people who are forced to use facilities inconsistent with their gender identity or expression. Despite what anti-LGBT activists imply, the evidence over the last several decades is that non-discrimination ordinances provide more, not less, safety in restrooms.
Prior to last month’s vote, Charlotte remained one of the largest cities in the country without a law explicitly protecting LGBT residents and visitors from discrimination. Eighteen other states and Washington D.C. already have statewide non-discrimination protections that include sexual orientation and gender identity in places of public accommodation -- including, but not limited to, bathrooms.
Last November, TurnOut! Charlotte successfully helped elect a pro-equality majority to the the Charlotte City Council, a move which cleared the way for last month’s victory.
Places of public accommodation make up a huge part of people’s everyday lives -- the coffee shop, the newspaper stand, public transit, the favorite lunch hangout, the grocery store, the gas station, the movie theater and the local pub are all places of public accommodation -- and it is unconscionable to deny people access to these fundamental aspects daily life simply because of who they are.
Tonight, Democratics left the Chamber before the shameful vote. The bill is now on its way to the governor.
North Carolina legislature (House in photo) debating bill to strip non-discrimination protections in Charlotte
Charlotte City Councilmember LaWana Mayfield (left) with HRC Regional Field Organizer Hope Jackson (right) review the bill in the North Carolina State House as the legislature prepares to take away the protections Mayfield and her fellow councilmembers passed only months ago.
Charlotte Mayor Jennifer Roberts with HRC boardmember and Charlotte resident Scott Bishop discussing outreach to business leaders.