Civil liberties groups joined with two transgender people and a law school professor today to file a federal suit challenging North Carolina’s new anti-LGBT law. The plaintiffs, who are employed by or attend the University of North Carolina system, are seeking a declaratory judgment that the law violates LGBT people’s rights to equal protection under the 14th Amendment and Title IX, and asks for an injunction to prevent enforcement of the law.
The North Carolina legislature convened a special one-day session last week with the explicit goal of overriding Charlotte’s progressive anti-discrimination ordinance. The resulting legislation, House Bill (H.B.) 2, was hurriedly passed and signed by Governor Pat McCrory within hours of the vote.
The Charlotte ordinance, passed last month, forbids businesses from discriminating against LGBT customers in places of public accommodation, including restaurants, taxis, and stores. The ordinance also specifically allows transgender people to use the bathroom that most closely matches their gender identities.
In order to undercut Charlotte’s ordinance, H.B. 2 states that localities may not pass any anti-discrimination laws that extend protections to classes of people not covered by the state’s law. It goes on to outline these protected classes—including “race, religion, color, national origin, age, biological sex or handicap”—but omits any reference of sexual orientation or gender identity. The sweeping legislation would prevent transgender people from using the restroom that corresponds with their gender identity, and would make discrimination against LGBT people in the public domain fully legal. In addition, the law also prohibits cities from passing a higher minimum wage than the state mandates.
The lawsuit—backed by the American Civil Liberties Union, ACLU of North Carolina, Equality North Carolina, and Lambda Legal—contends that “by singling out LGBT people for disfavored treatment and explicitly writing discrimination against transgender people into state law, H.B. 2 violates the most basic guarantees of equal treatment and the U.S. Constitution.”
“H.B. 2 was motivated by an intent to treat LGBT people differently, and worse, than other people, including by stripping them of the protections afforded by the City of Charlotte’s Ordinance and precluding any local government from taking action to protect LGBT people against discrimination,” the lawsuit states. In doing so, “H.B. 2 imposes a different and more burdensome political process on LGBT people than on non-LGBT people who have state protection against identity-based discrimination.”
While the Obama Administration has interpreted Title IX to protect transgender people, including their right to use the bathroom aligned with their gender identity, North Carolina is the first state to require students to use the restroom that matches their birth certificate.
Despite some successes across the country— including Georgia Governor Nathan Deal’s veto of his state’s own “religious liberty” bill today—LGBT advocates fear that North Carolina’s sweeping legislation could inspire other states to pass similar discriminatory laws.
Activists in North Carolina meanwhile have organized rallies across the state to oppose H.B. 2. These efforts are being supported online through the use of the hashtag #WeAreNotThis.
Media Resources: Charlotte Observer 3/26/16; United States District Court for the Middle District of North Carolina 3/28/16; Lieutenant Governor Dan Forest Press Release 3/22/16; United States Department of Education April 2014; Charlotte Observer 2/22/16; Office of Governor Nathan Deal Press Release 3/28/16