The day after HB2’s repeal, transgender people wake up to still-ambiguous law

Speaker of the House Rep. Tim Moore, center, flanked by fellow Republicans, speaks at a press conference after HB 142 passed in the General Assembly March 30, 2017 in Raleigh.
Speaker of the House Rep. Tim Moore, center, flanked by fellow Republicans, speaks at a press conference after HB 142 passed in the General Assembly March 30, 2017 in Raleigh. TNS

Charlotte’s gay and transgender community awoke Friday, a day after repeal of House Bill 2, to the same nether world that existed before the state law passed little more than a year ago.

Gone was the city ordinance that, for a month, let transgender people use the public restroom of their gender identity. Gone, until December 2020, was the ability of local governments to enact other non-discrimination ordinances.

In their place is an unanswered question: which city-owned restrooms are transgender people supposed to use? Charlotte officials had no immediate answer Friday.

“For the trans community, we’re kind of left hanging out to dry,” said Paige Dula, a transgender woman who runs a transgender support group in Charlotte. She wonders whether lawmakers, in the one-day rush to repeal HB2, thought through its ramifications.

Restroom use often comes down to what that community calls “passing privileges,” such as whether a person early in their transition from male to female looks feminine enough. Someone who looks different for some reason, such as people who identify as neither solely male nor female, are more likely to get odd looks or worse.

“People get angry,” she said. “They’ll call police or security, and it’s not uncommon for them to be removed from stores. It’s really stressful.”

Dula said a big fear is that, with repeal, allies of LGBTQ people will think that the problems confronting them have been solved.

“I’m afraid that we’re going to lose that momentum,” she said. “There’s a lot of fight still in this and we need all the support we can get because we’re such a small population.”

Maxine Eichner, who teaches family law at UNC School of Law, said the repeal votes return the law to its previous, unclear answer on where transgender people should go to the restroom.

“In actual practice, there were many trans folks for whom bathroom choices are a challenge because they’re not clearly protected,” she said Thursday.

Janice Covington, a transgender woman and Democratic Party activist in Charlotte, said she felt betrayed by Democratic legislators who voted for the bill.

“What’s my temperature (the day after)? It’s 150 degrees because of the Democrats who voted for House Bill 142,” she said, referring to the legislative name for the compromise. “It’s just as bad as House Bill 2 – maybe even worse.”

As a member of the N.C. Democratic Party’s state executive committee and vice chair of Precinct 29, Covington said “we Democrats pride ourselves on the fact that we’re accepting and don’t discriminate against anybody. ... I thought these (Democratic legislators who voted yes) were accepting and were my friends. And damn if they didn’t vote against me. Slapped me in the face.”

In the end, Covington said, the compromise passed Thursday because of a desire to please the NCAA.

“So now we know that the price of a gay person is a basketball game,” she said. “My hope is that the NCAA will see this and not come (back to North Carolina). I’d rather them not come than come to a state that’s bigoted.”

Asked about the state’s top Democrat, Gov. Roy Cooper, who signed the bill Thursday, Covington answered: “I don’t have any comment at this time.”

For Charlotte LGBTQ activist Scott Bishop, Thursday’s hurried passage and signing of the compromise bill reminded him of how the legislature passed and then-Gov. Pat McCrory signed House Bill 2 in just one day.

Again, he said, “lawmakers were not allowed to really understand the ramifications. Now we’re further behind than we were before” the Charlotte ordinance that House Bill 2 was passed to nullify. With that ordinance, which Bishop helped craft, the city had expanded its civil rights protections to include LGBTQ persons.

The compromise passed in Raleigh on Thursday prohibits cities and counties from passing any anti-discrimination ordinances until December 2020.

Bishop said many in Charlotte’s gay, lesbian and transgender community are calling the compromise an extension, not a repeal, of HB2.

“It’s just HB2.0,” he said.

Bishop said he was disappointed that Cooper signed the bill.

“I did a lot of work to get the governor elected,” he said. “I understand what he was trying to get done. But I don’t agree.”

But Bishop said he and other LGBTQ voters in Charlotte were heartened that Charlotte Mayor Jennifer Roberts broke with fellow Democrat Cooper on the bill, which she called “false repeal.”

“She has a lot of support (in the LGBTQ community),” Bishop said about Roberts. “I think they’ll be encouraged by her comments and will enjoy hearing that from her.”

Bruce Henderson: 704-358-5051, @bhender