Transgender bathroom-access debate heats up in NC

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BOSTON – While Beacon Hill lawmakers have kept back a proposed law that would ensure access for transgender people to public accommodations based on how they identify sexually, legislative and legal debates over similar “Bathroom Bills” have heated up recently nationwide.

In North Carolina, Gov. Pat McCrory, a Republican, drew widespread rebukes after he signed a bill into law last week that bans local municipalities from passing their own Bathroom Bills. The measure also requires transgender people to use restrooms and locker rooms according to their biological sex.

Activists, liberal politicians and some business leaders assailed the measure. In San Francisco, other residents rallied to decry the law. Mayors Ed Lee of San Francisco and Ed Murray of Seattle both banned city workers from traveling to North Carolina, while in Boston, City Councilor Josh Zakim proposed a measure to bar the city from paying for travel to the state.

The state law “disrespects and denigrates” transgender people, Zakim said in a post. “I intend to work with my colleagues and the mayor to pass this ordinance as quickly as possible.”

Nicknamed House Bill 2, or HB2, the law bans discrimination according to “race, religion, color, national origin or biological sex” but excludes sexual orientation and gender identity among its protected categories. The measure was passed the same day it was proposed in a special session held by the Republican-led legislature, and McCrory, who is campaigning for re-election in the swing state, signed it later that day.

On Monday, the American Civil Liberties Union of North Carolina joined two transgender people, a lesbian law professor and Equality North Carolina in suing McCrory and state Attorney General Roy Cooper, among others, over the law, according to the Raleigh-based News & Observer newspaper. The case was brought in federal court.

Those condemning the law included Hollywood director Rob Reiner, who said he won’t produce more movies in the state until it repeals the statute, CBS News reported. In Massachusetts, the leaders of Northeastern University and Biogen issued statements deploring the measure. Both have significant operations in the state.   

But other political leaders looked to the North Carolina law as a guide for legislation in their own states, according to various media reports.

“The North Carolina bill is worthwhile to look at,” South Dakota state Rep. Fred Deutsch, R-Florence, said, according to the Argus Leader newspaper in South Dakota. “Our objective is to protect student privacy.”

South Dakota Gov. Dennis Daugaard on March 1 vetoed a measure Deutsch sponsored that would have required transgender people to use facilities that correspond with their sex at birth.

Legislation is pending in more than a dozen states that would guide bathroom and locker room access for transgender people.

On Beacon Hill, a proposed Massachusetts Bathroom Bill has been the subject of a legislative hearing that’s required before any bill can move forward. But opposition from privacy advocates has slowed the bill down as opponents say that letting someone enter a restroom reserved for those of the opposite biological sex could put the privacy and safety of women and children at risk.

The proposal (S 735 and H 1577) has stalled in the Legislature’s Judiciary Committee, with the the deadline to bring a version to a full vote extended until May 2.

Privacy concerns like those expressed by Deutsch, Bay State conservative groups and lawmakers are similar to those that led to North Carolina’s move to enact the bill last week.

Contact Kara Bettis at [email protected] or on Twitter @karabettis.