From its inception, House Bill 2 was a solution in search of a problem that preyed on fears and ignorance.
North Carolina’s notorious “bathroom law” mandated that citizens must use public restrooms that comport with the gender indicated on their birth certificates.
This meant a transgender woman would be forced, by law, to use a men’s room, a transgender man the women’s facility.
Championed by then-Gov. Pat McCrory, the bill was passed quickly in the dark of night in 2016, with no public discussion. In a visit to Greensboro the next day, McCrory, a Republican, conjured images of men pretending to be women stalking daughters and wives in the state’s restrooms.
But, soon enough, much of the rest of the country seemed to see HB 2 for what it was: a cynical, mean-spirited wedge issue manufactured to turn out votes.
It brought the state reams of bad publicity and cost it new jobs and tourism dollars. Greensboro lost NCAA tournament games, an ACC women’s tournament and a Bruce Springsteen concert, among other events. The NBA moved its All-Star Game from Charlotte to New Orleans.
Ever since, HB 2 has been dying a slow death. Already partially repealed by the legislature in 2017, the law was dealt another blow in the courts last week. A federal judge approved a consent decree that prevents state agencies and universities from banning transgender individuals from using the bathroom of the gender with which they identify in state government buildings.
The partial repeal of HB 2 had already included that provision, but the plaintiffs in a lawsuit felt that the compromise legislation, House Bill 142, was worded vaguely. Now it has been clarified. Specifically:
“The Executive Branch Defendants, in their official capacities, and all successors, officers, and employees are hereby permanently enjoined from applying Section 2 of H.B. 142 to bar, prohibit, block, deter, or impede any transgender individuals from using public facilities under any Executive Branch Defendant’s control or supervision, in accordance with the transgender individual’s gender identity.”
Said the lead plaintiff in the case, Joaquin Carcaño, a transgender employee at UNC-Chapel Hill: “After so many years of managing the anxiety of HB 2 and fighting so hard, I am relieved that we finally have a court order to protect transgender people from being punished under these laws.”
But the negative ripples of HB 2 are not completely undone. For instance, it applies only to state university and government buildings. It also leaves standing a provision in the compromise bill, HB 142, that prohibits local governments from enacting their own anti-discrimination protections for LGBTQ people until 2020. And it does not prevent state lawmakers from enacting new bathroom restrictions in the future.
But, as we’re reminded in national headlines, almost by the minute, 2020 is nearly here.
And for now, at least, the legislature seems to have learned a lesson.
When they took on LGBTQ rights as an “easy” campaign issue, Republican lawmakers probably didn’t bargain from the resistance they encountered from both the corporate community and the general public.
Good people did not idly stand by.