For the past year, North Carolina has worn the Public Facilities Privacy & Security Act-more commonly known as House Bill 2 or HB2-like a national badge of shame. This so-called bathroom bill, passed with no advance notice by special legislative session in March 2016 and signed into law by former Republican Gov. Pat McCrory, specifically targeted the state’s transgender population, making it a crime for people to use restrooms in public facilities that don’t match the sex marked on their birth certificate.
On Thursday, with an NCAA-imposed deadline looming, lawmakers passed a compromise bill as an eleventh-hour solution to avoid losing lucrative college basketball contracts. This compromise repeals HB2 and replaces it with House Bill 142 (HB142). The new legislation prevents local governments from passing non-discrimination ordinances of their own until 2020, and also rules that only the state legislature can issue guidelines on public bathroom access. The new Democratic governor, Roy Cooper, signed HB142 into law Thursday afternoon.
These damaging and discriminatory qualifiers demonstrate a stunning lack of courage and moral conviction. As an educator who works with transgender students every day, I oppose this compromise bill and urge our governor and legislators to enact a full repeal of HB2.
Since the bathroom bill’s passage, North Carolina has felt a staggering economic impact, with the Associated Press estimating a $3.76 billion loss to the state’s economy. The bill has also catapulted North Carolina into the national spotlight for all the wrong reasons, making it ground zero in a federal debate over the rights of transgender individuals.
Such laws can have an immense impact on children. Recent data demonstrates that suicide rates among LGBTQ youth dropped significantly when their states passed marriage equality laws. These young people were not immediately impacted by these laws-the majority of them had no immediate plans to marry. However, the passage of marriage equality legislation signified to LGBTQ youth that their humanity and citizenship were fully recognized by their state, and made their world seem more welcoming.
In addition to removing blatantly discriminatory policies and practices, a full repeal of HB2 would signify to LGBTQ youth that their lives have value. HB2 brought the question of transgender rights to the national level, and the past year has been a dizzying volley of guidance and lawsuits between states and the federal government. Most recently, the Departments of Justice and Education have revoked Obama-era guidance (crafted in direct response to HB2) that instructed schools how to apply Title IX of the Education Amendments Act to ensure the protection of transgender students’ rights. This reversal in guidance prompted the Supreme Court to send a potentially decisive case on transgender rights back to the lower courts. The onus of protecting-or failing to protect-transgender students now falls squarely back on the states.
In North Carolina, it is still legal to discriminate against someone for being gay, lesbian, bisexual, or transgender. Municipalities across the state have attempted to provide an additional layer of protections for their LGBTQ citizens. In light of a federal government that has shown no interest in protecting the rights of transgender students, it is morally reprehensible for the state to do anything to limit the ability of municipalities to pass non-discrimination ordinances of their own, particularly since the North Carolina legislature refuses to pass statewide protections for LGBTQ communities. And indeed, the North Carolina legislature has not shown itself to be a responsible steward of the laws regarding bathroom access. Most importantly, any bill that falls short of full repeal signals to North Carolina’s LGBTQ youth that their lives are not worthy of full protection.
HB2 has never been about safety; it’s about civil rights. North Carolina has already paid a huge economic price for HB2. However, the greatest cost of this bill has been to the lives of our state’s most vulnerable citizens-LGBTQ North Carolinians. As the governor and legislators consider a full repeal of HB2, what’s actually on the line is their moral compass.
Angela Mazaris is director of the LGBTQ Center at Wake Forest University.