NC lawmakers return to address transgender bathroom measure

AP News
|
Posted: Mar 23, 2016 4:35 AM

RALEIGH, N.C. (AP) — North Carolina lawmakers return to work in a special session Wednesday to consider stopping a new Charlotte ordinance set to take effect April 1 that gives protections to transgender people to use the restroom of their gender identity.

Proposed legislation is expected to go beyond just overturning Charlotte's broader LGBT ordinance. All local governments statewide could be barred from prohibiting discrimination in public accommodations based on sexual orientation and gender identity going forward, as Charlotte did.

Republican leaders at the General Assembly, responding to worries from constituents and conservative activists about the provision in the state's largest city, scheduled a one-day session after enough lawmakers requested to reconvene. Otherwise, they wouldn't have met again until late April.

House Speaker Tim Moore, R-Cleveland, has said intervening is necessary to protect the safety of women and children. He and others have focused on the ordinance allowing transgender people to use the restroom aligned with their gender identity.

"When a local government goes on such a radical course and a reckless course, we in the General Assembly I think not only have the authority but actually the duty to do something about it, and in this case we're going to," Moore said Tuesday. There have been arguments that any man — perhaps a sex offender — could enter a woman's restroom or locker room simply by calling himself transgender.

Representatives for gay-rights groups said overturning the ordinance is wrong and demonizing the transgender community. They say blocking the ordinance will deny lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people essential protections needed to ensure they can get a hotel room, hail a taxi or dine at a restaurant without fear.

At least 225 cities and counties nationwide have passed similar anti-discrimination laws.

"Charlotte's law is not unusual, unique or radical," said Chris Sgro, executive director of Equality North Carolina. "A special session to deal with such an ordinance is radical, unique and unusual."

Leading up to last month's 7-4 vote, Charlotte city leaders heard from LGBT residents who say they've experienced harassment and discrimination trying to use public accommodations.

The ordinance "sends a message to everyone that we matter," Erica Lachowitz of Charlotte, who was born male but identifies as female, said last week. Otherwise, she added, "we are afraid half the time to walk in to a bathroom that matches our gender identity."

Details on the final proposed legislation were expected Wednesday morning.

Gov. Pat McCrory, a Republican, has criticized the ordinance in Charlotte, where he was mayor for 14 years, and wants action. McCrory didn't call the special session himself — a top aide told legislators Monday the bill's scope had widened too far — raising questions about what his response will be to legislation. Each day in session costs $42,000.

Legislation requiring transgender students to use bathrooms corresponding with their birth gender have failed recently in other states. South Dakota's legislature failed to override Gov. Dennis Daugaard's veto of such legislation. A similar Tennessee bill died Tuesday in a House committee.