Politics & Government

HB2, bathroom safety emerges as NC campaign issue. What are the facts?

The Charlotte Observer is hosting a forum on HB2 on Nov. 2.
The Charlotte Observer is hosting a forum on HB2 on Nov. 2. Toby Talbot

Since North Carolina passed its controversial House Bill 2, supporters have focused on one portion of the law: bathroom safety.

They say that Charlotte’s nondiscrimination ordinance, which HB2 nullified, would have put women and children at risk in restrooms because it would have allowed transgender women to use the bathroom of their gender identity.

Now, that point of tension is emerging in the governor’s race. The N.C. Values Coalition recently released a TV ad that criticizes Democratic nominee “Roy Cooper’s bathroom plan.”

Critics have said Charlotte’s nondiscrimination ordinance would have emboldened male predators to enter women’s restrooms.

Supporters have said opponents are creating hysteria, and transgender women do not commit crimes against other women in bathrooms.

Do ordinances like Charlotte encourage that behavior?

Charlotte’s nondiscrimination ordinance would have prevented discrimination against gay, lesbian and transgender individuals in places of public accommodations, including stores, restaurants and bars.

HB2 mandated that people use the bathroom that matches the sex on their birth certificate in government buildings, like schools, airports and libraries.

The issue is playing a key role in the governor’s race between Republican incumbent Pat McCrory, who supports HB2, and Cooper, who opposes it. The Observer is hosting a forum on HB2 Nov. 2 at McGlohon Theater in Spirit Square.

PolitiFact North Carolina, a partnership between The (Raleigh) News & Observer and PolitiFact.com., earlier this year asked the N.C. Republican Party to point to cases that back up the party’s criticism that Charlotte’s ordinance endangered women.

The party pointed to a news story from February in Seattle. The story reported that the city’s Parks and Recreation department said a man “wearing board shorts entered the women’s locker room and took off his shirt.”

When women told staff, the man said, “the law has changed and I have a right to be here.”

Washington State had recently passed a law that allowed transgender people to use the bathroom that corresponds with their gender identity.

Supporters of such laws, and Charlotte’s ordinance, dismiss the Seattle incident as a publicity stunt. (The Washington law did not allow men into women’s restrooms; it only allowed transgender people to use their bathroom that corresponds with their gender identity.)

“The opponents of these laws are politicizing bathrooms,” said Cathryn Oakley of the Washington D.C.-based Human Rights Campaign. “They are creating problems where there don’t need to be any.”

The HRC and other supporters of Charlotte’s ordinance have said that transgender individuals are the people at risk when they have use a bathroom that doesn’t correspond with their gender identity.

Cities across the nation have had ordinances for transgender individuals for years, with some dating back to the 1970s. Most of the ordinances were passed with scant discussion about how bathrooms would be impacted, and there was little or no controversy about how the ordinances were implemented.

There is, however, at least one incident in which it appears someone clearly abused laws enacted to protect transgender individuals.

Two years ago, in Toronto, a biological man claimed to be transgender to gain access to and prey on women at two Toronto shelters. Under the name “Jessica,” he was able to get into the women’s shelters, where he sexually assaulted several women in 2012, according to the Toronto Sun.

He was jailed after a judge declared him a “dangerous offender.”

“People have filed police reports – these are real situations that have happened,” said Tami Fitzgerald of the N.C. Values Coalition, which supports HB2. “The progressive left refuses to acknowledge that women have real fears in bathrooms, especially women who have been sexually assaulted before. The mainstream media sticks its head in the sand.”

Since worldwide attention was focused on Charlotte after HB2, Target announced it would allow transgender people to use the bathroom that matches their gender identity in its stores.

The LGBT community applauded the decision, though it caused a backlash. There have been media reports of men entering women’s changing rooms or bathrooms, though it’s possible that also happened before the worldwide controversy over bathroom rights.

Fitzgerald cited numerous reports of men acting as peeping toms in Target changing rooms and bathrooms. It’s unclear whether the men felt emboldened by the store’s transgender-friendly policy.

In one case, an Idaho television station reported that a man who identifies as a transgender woman was arrested after she took photos of other women inside of the changing room at Target in Ammon.

Oakley, of the Human Rights Campaign, said she believes the Target incidents are, in part, due to conservative activists mobilizing people to test the boundaries of the store’s policy. She said the behavior of the people at Target is against the law, and would have been with or without the company’s transgender bathroom policy.

Target has since said it will spend $20 million to add single-stall, family bathrooms to all of its stores.

The city of Charlotte also recently refurbished bathrooms on the second floor of the Government Center to make them single-stall, unisex. The city acted after HB2 required people in the building to use the bathrooms that match their birth certificate.

Though the Seattle incident took place in a locker room, there has been less attention on men or transgender women using women’s locker rooms.

Charlotte’s interpretation of its ordinance was that a transgender woman could use a women’s locker room. But people exposed their genitalia, they would be breaking the law. That means they would have to use a private changing area and private shower.

Steve Harrison: 704-358-5160, @Sharrison_Obs