The country’s latest culture war has shifted to North Carolina in recent weeks, where lawmakers are engaged in a tense debate over whether or not transgender people should be given full, unrestrained access to bathrooms that correspond with their preferred gender identity instead of their biological sex.
The issue arose last Monday, when the Charlotte City Council voted to expand the city’s Non-Discrimination Ordinance to include protections for lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender people in places of public accommodation.
“I’m pleased that Charlotte has sent a signal that we will treat people with dignity and respect, even when we disagree,” Charlotte Mayor Jennifer Roberts, a Democrat, said after the City Council approved the measure by a 7-4 vote.
The most contested part of the ordinance is a so-called “bathroom” provision that would allow transgender individuals to use restrooms and other sex-specific facilities in accordance with their preferred gender identity instead of their biological sex in places of public accommodation like businesses and local YMCAs. The concern, opponents say, is that the measure puts women, children, and businesses owners in harm’s way.
Gov. Pat McCrory, a Republican who previously served as mayor of Charlotte, decried the Charlotte city council for passing the measure and warned that changing basic restroom and locker room norms could “create major public safety issues.”
“This shift in policy could also create major public safety issues by putting citizens in possible danger from deviant actions by individuals taking improper advantage of a bad policy,” McCrory said in an email to two Republicans on the Charlotte City Council. “Also, this action of allowing a person with male anatomy, for example, to use a female restroom or locker room will most likely cause immediate state legislative intervention which I would support as governor.”
House Speaker Tim Moore, a Republican, vowed publicly to work with McCrory and other lawmakers to “correct this radical course” and address the issue legislatively, which may mean adding a special session to the legislative calendar. Mollie Young, communications director for Moore, told The Daily Signal that McCrory is “exploring the opportunity” of a special session and in the process of “gauging interest among the Republican caucus.”
In order to call a special session, McCrory would need the support of three-fifths of the House, or 72 members. Currently, Republicans hold 74 seats. McCrory’s spokesperson added that if the House agrees, McCrory would also seek consensus of the Senate, because without its support, a bill can’t reach the governor’s desk. Currently, Republicans hold 34 of 50 seats.
Unless state lawmakers take action, the changes to the ordinance will go into effect April 1.
Pro-LGBT groups like the North Carolina American Civil Liberties Union, the Human Rights Campaign, and Equality North Carolina are working to let the ordinance stand, arguing that the protections are essential to the dignity and human rights of the LGBT population.
“It is nothing short of shocking to hear Speaker Moore call for a special session just weeks before scheduled session at a cost to taxpayers, especially when this General Assembly seems to be unable to find necessary funding for schools and infrastructure in the Old North State,” said Chris Sgro, executive director of Equality N.C., in a press release. “This is another in a line of attacks on municipal control, and a supermajority of North Carolinians object to such intrusive action coming out of the GA. They want their elected city and local governments making city and local decisions.”
If the Republican-controlled legislature is able to agree on a response, it will override Charlotte’s city ordinance. Lawmakers can choose to unravel the entire ordinance, which includes protecting individuals based on marital and family status and sexual orientation in addition to gender identity and expression, or they can target specific provisions, such as the one allowing transgender individuals access to the single-sex bathroom with which they identify.
Tami Fitzgerald, executive director for the North Carolina Values Coalition, is organizing a coalition of pro-family groups and businesses across the state and is advocating for a complete overwrite.
“What we hope to happen is the legislature and the governor will call a special session and repeal the entire ordinance by passing a law that would prohibit not only Charlotte, but other counties in the state from this overreach of power,” Fitzgerald said.
“The bathroom piece is important, but it’s just one tiny part of a larger ordinance that basically denies people the freedom to live and work according to their beliefs.”
In drafting a response, Republican lawmakers might look toward South Dakota, which was the first state in the nation to pass a bill that bans public school students from using bathrooms and other sex-specific facilities opposite from their biological sex. For transgender or gender non-conforming students requesting a separate arrangement, schools are required to provide a “reasonable accommodation” such as access to a private restroom, faculty restroom, or nurse’s office.
In South Dakota, Republican Gov. Dennis Daugaard has until the end of the day to issue a response before the bill becomes law.