Tanvi Misra is a staff writer for CityLab covering immigrant communities, housing, economic inequality, and culture. She also authors Navigator, a weekly newsletter for urban explorers (subscribe here). Her work also appears in The Atlantic, NPR, and BBC.
State lawmakers hurriedly pushed through a bill that jeopardizes LGBT citizens—and the rights of cities to govern themselves.
The North Carolina legislature convened a hurried “emergency” session Wednesday, where they passed a bill that strips all its city and local governments of the power to enforce existing laws that protect LGBT residents from discrimination, allow transgender individuals access to bathrooms that correspond with their gender identity, or allow employers to pay wages above the state minimum. The bill, which Governor Pat Mcrory signed into law late Wednesday, deals a huge blow not just to the state’s LGBT and low-income residents, but to its cities’ freedom to decide what’s best for them.
“This is perhaps the most extreme anti-LGBT measure we’ve seen anywhere in the country,” Mike Meno, communications director at the American Civil Liberties Union of North Carolina told CityLab. “It combines a lot of bad ideas into one ... uniquely offensive bill.”
The state hits back at Charlotte
Wednesday’s session was a direct response to the city of Charlotte’s extension of its non-discrimination ordinance in February. The ordinance, which won 7-2 in the city council, prohibits businesses from discriminating against customers on the basis of sexual orientation or gender identity, and requires that transgender people be allowed to enter public bathrooms they feel comfortable using.
Following that decision, conservatives in the state legislature were up in arms—particularly about the bathroom provision. They immediately threatened to strike it down, citing safety and privacy concerns, as opponents of such provisions often do. Here is North Carolina Governor Pat McCrory, via Buzzfeed News:
“As I communicated and predicted prior to the vote, state legislative leaders have notified me about introducing legislation that would correct this misguided government regulation and ensure it will not happen in any town or city in North Carolina,” McCrory said.
That “correction”came Wednesday—and all within a matter of a few hours. By 3:30 p.m., HB 2 had passed in the House (supported by Republicans and Democrats):
All Republicans backed bill. Democrats who voted yes: Reps. Larry Bell, William Brisson, Elmer Floyd, Ken Goodman... (1/2) #ncpol— Colin Campbell (@RaleighReporter) March 23, 2016
(2/2)..., Charles Graham, George Graham, Ed Hanes, Garland Pierce, Robert Reives, Michael Wray...so more "yes" votes than I expected. #ncpol— Colin Campbell (@RaleighReporter) March 23, 2016
By 6:30 p.m., it had passed in the Senate unanimously after Democrats staged a walk-out:
And late in the evening, the governor signed the bill:
I signed bipartisan legislation to stop the breach of basic privacy and etiquette, ensure privacy in bathrooms and locker rooms.— Pat McCrory (@PatMcCroryNC) March 24, 2016
Ordinance defied common sense, allowing men to use women’s bathroom/locker room for instance. That’s why I signed bipartisan bill to stop it— Pat McCrory (@PatMcCroryNC) March 24, 2016
Here's what's happening - at light speed - in the General Assembly's "emergency" session right now.
In response to Charlotte's anti-discrimination ordinance, a bill has been introduced that would eliminate every anti-discrimination ordinance *in the state* and remove any negative consequences for those who violate the state's ban on racial and gender discrimination.
They are pushing this through as fast as possible. No one was allowed to see the bill until the committee met, then legislators were given 5 minutes to read it. It passed out of the committee and is now being debated on the House floor. It will almost certainly pass the House. Then it will be taken up in Senate committee, then to the Senate floor. All in one day.
If it becomes law, it means any business in the state can refuse service to any LGBT person - even by just posting a sign that says, "No Gays Allowed." It is much broader than last year's much-debated Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA), which at least required a "sincerely held religious belief" to refuse service. This includes no such requirement. Discriminate at will.
The press is just now waking up to the bait and switch that just occurred, which is why you haven't heard much about this yet - but you will. This is going to be the broadest anti-LGBT legislation in the nation, and it will hurt our state deeply if it becomes law. #WeAreNotThis
What the law does
It hurts gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender North Carolinians who patronize bars, restaurants, and other businesses because it wipes out any city laws, like those in Charlotte, protecting them from discrimination. It also infringes on city employment protections currently in place: There may now be no legal recourse for workers fired for being gay. Nowhere in the state will transgender people be lawfully allowed to use the public restroom of their choice, putting citizens in danger of being harassed and even physically attacked. Those rights are now nullified, despite little evidence that non-discrimination laws like Charlotte’s would negatively affected anyone. Here’s how one North Carolinian transgender woman reacted when the bill passed, again via WRAL:
"I can't use the men's room. I won't go back to the men's room. It is unsafe for me there. People like me die there," said Madeleine Goss, a Raleigh woman who said she was bullied as a boy in Hickory because of her gender identity.
This law’s passage has other, broader repercussions for the state. For one, it can potentially cost the state $4.5 billion in federal funding for schools under the federal Title IX amendment, which prohibits discrimination in public education institutions, including against transgender students, the ACLU says.
Cities will not be permitted to raise their wages locally, hurting low-income workers living in big cities where their labor is most needed, in industries like construction and banking. Several major companies have come out in opposition of the bill, saying that it would damage business in the state:
The North Carolina League of Municipalities is also not a fan of the bill, because at its core it impinges on the rights of local governments to do what they’re supposed to do—govern:
The ACLU, Lambda Legal, and Equality North Carolina have announced that they will be “exploring legal challenges to the discriminatory law.”