Politics & Government

Where does a transgender person now use the bathroom in city buildings? Charlotte doesn’t know.

If a transgender passenger changes planes at Charlotte Douglas Airport today, what bathroom do they use? It’s an answered question that affects all city owned facilities - such as this crowded airport concourse during the last year’s Christmas exodus.
If a transgender passenger changes planes at Charlotte Douglas Airport today, what bathroom do they use? It’s an answered question that affects all city owned facilities - such as this crowded airport concourse during the last year’s Christmas exodus. dhinshaw@charlotteobserver.com

If a transgender passenger changes planes at Charlotte Douglas Airport today, what bathroom do they use?

The same question applies for a visitor at the city owned Convention Center and the city owned Spectrum Center uptown. It applies to libraries and the DMV, as well.

Can they use the bathroom that matches their gender identity?

The repeal Thursday of House Bill 2 Thursday removed a controversial requirement that people use the bathroom that matches the gender on their birth certificate in government buildings.

But the new legislation has language that could be interpreted as making it difficult for cities and towns to pass their own bathroom regulations in their own buildings.

It’s perhaps the biggest unanswered question after the HB2 repeal, and it applies to governments that operate some of the largest public facilities: Arenas, airports, schools, libraries and convention centers.

Republican council member Ed Driggs said his personal interpretation of the new law is that Charlotte can’t create a new bathroom policy – even for its own buildings.

“My personal reading is that all of the government entities will not establish policies about bathrooms,” he said. “I assume we will stick to a situation where multi-use bathrooms are for people of their biological gender and we can establish facilities for others that are single-occupancy.”

The provision in the new law that Driggs referenced states that state and local governments are “preempted from regulation of access to multiple occupancy restrooms, showers, or changing facilities, except in accordance with an act of the General Assembly.”

Driggs added: “I think (the legislature) is saying, ‘It’s not up to you to make up your own rules for your bathrooms.”

Norma Houston, a UNC School of Government lecturer and a former General Assembly lawyer, agreed with Driggs.

“The new statue that was enacted preempts any regulation,” she said. “That would include an ordinance, a policy – anything in between.”

On Friday, the city of Charlotte was mum about who could use what bathroom in the numerous city owned buildings. City officials appeared to be scrambling to understand what the new law allows them to do, if anything.

The city attorney’s office didn’t return calls from The Observer. The city’s corporate communications office was still researching the issue.

The Charlotte Regional Visitors Authority manages city owned buildings like the Convention Center, the NASCAR Hall of Fame, Ovens Auditorium and Bojangles’ Coliseum. The CRVA said Friday morning it was studying how the new law would impact its bathroom policy.

Charlotte Mayor Jennifer Roberts, a Democrat, blasted the legislature and Cooper’s action Thursday, saying it was a “false repeal.”

Her spokesperson, Gregg Watkins, said Friday the mayor has been asking city officials about its new bathroom policy for the airport, convention center and other buildings.

In 2015, after the City Council failed to approve a nondiscrimination ordinance to give the LGBT community legal protections, former City Manager Ron Carlee issued a new policy: Guests to the Government Center could use the bathroom that matches their gender identity.

That policy was overturned in March 2016 when HB2 was passed.

But in the aftermath of the HB2 repeal, it’s unclear what the city will do.

On Thursday, the Human Rights Campaign said it didn’t think Charlotte and other cities could set its own policies to allow transgender people to use bathrooms that match their gender identity.

“What kind of power do the convention centers and these state-owned facilities have?” asked Cathryn Oakley of the Human Rights Campaign, which opposes HB2 as well as the compromise. “There is a lot of ambiguity there. It’s an open question about whether those folks can have nondiscrimination policies inside their buildings.”

In the wake of HB2 in North Carolina, the NCAA issued new rules last year for host cities wishing to bid on championships. The NCAA appeared to want host cities to clearly affirm how they would be “inclusive.”

“Currently awarded sites must report how they will provide an environment that is safe, healthy and free of discrimination, plus safeguards the dignity of everyone involved in the event,” the NCAA said last April in announcing the change. “The information must be reported to the Board of Governors Ad Hoc Committee to Promote Cultural Diversity and Equity, and full implementation is expected during the current bidding process.’’

Will Charlotte and other cities like Greensboro and Raleigh tell the NCAA that its transgender fans and athletes can use a locker room or bathroom that matches their gender identity?

As of noon Friday, the NCAA hadn’t yet commented on the legislature’s repeal of HB2.

Steve Harrison: 704-358-5160, @Sharrison_Obs

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