Anti-Trans Bills Flourish Nationwide as States and Cities Spar
In less than 12 hours on Wednesday, North Carolina legislators and Gov. Pat McCrory shut down the years-long efforts of local communities to protect the rights of their LGBT friends and neighbors. House Bill 2, introduced that morning, strips cities of their ability to create antidiscrimination protections for LGBT people, voiding an ordinance passed by Charlotte in February. Proponents of H.B. 2 took issue with the ordinance’s provision that allowed transgender people to use bathrooms that align with their gender identities.
“I signed bipartisan legislation to stop the breach of basic privacy and etiquette, ensure privacy in bathrooms and locker rooms,” McCrory tweeted shortly after signing the bill Wednesday evening.
The North Carolina House voted 83–25 to pass the bill in a special session, after which Democratic senators walked out in anger, leaving the Senate to approve it 32–0 and send it on for McCrory’s signature. The Democrats left to protest that they hadn’t been given a chance to read the bill before it was introduced an hour before its first vote, according to The Carolina Journal. The bill also requires students in schools throughout the state to use bathrooms that match the gender on their birth certificates and bars cities from enacting a minimum wage higher than the state’s.
“We witnessed an affront to democracy,” Democratic Sen. Dan Blue of Raleigh told the Charlotte Observer. “We will not be silent.”
Championing arguments that H.B. 2 would protect North Carolina citizens from incidents of assault and rape in bathrooms by members of the opposite sex, the bill’s supporters echoed fear-mongering tactics used to promote anti-LGBT legislation across the country. Harking back to the defeat of a similar antidiscrimination ordinance in Houston in December 2015, legislators have focused narrowly on the question of privacy and safety in bathrooms, while transgender advocates have wryly responded with the hashtag #WeJustNeedtoPee.
“This law will invade the privacy of all students, potentially creating gender checks and other invasive measures for students to somehow prove their gender before using the restroom, and will particularly hurt transgender youth who are simply trying to go to school and get an education with their peers,” said Mary Hooks, codirector of Southerners on New Ground, an LGBT community organizing group, in a statement on Thursday.
The passage of H.B. 2 situates North Carolina in the midst of a broader conflict between predominantly conservative states and their cities’ efforts to enact progressive legislation. In late February, Alabama Gov. Robert Bentley signed a law preventing cities in his state from creating their own wage ordinances in response to the Birmingham city council approving a measure to increase the local minimum wage. Seven other states have introduced similar bills in the past two months alone.
In 2014, after Mississippi passed a controversial “religious freedom” bill that allowed businesses to deny service to LGBT individuals, eight cities passed antidiscrimination resolutions in an effort to make their opposition to the bill clear. While the cities were unable to supersede the state law with their local resolutions, the endeavor represents an advocacy movement rising strong amid a state’s broader anti-LGBT sentiment.