Politics & Government

Charlotte lesbian couple join HB2 lawsuit, alleging discrimination by fertility clinic

The debate over LGBT rights that led to House Bill 2 began in Charlotte. Now a Charlotte couple have joined the legal fight against the controversial law.

Beverly Newell and Kelly Trent are among the latest plaintiffs suing Gov. Pat McCrory and other state leaders over HB2’s impact on the LGBT community. The married couple say that a Charlotte fertility clinic refused to treat them this month because they are a same-sex couple.

Newell and Trent told the Observer on Tuesday that they blame HB2 – for making it easier to discriminate and restricting ways for them to respond.

The clinic’s owner said Thursday that the couple’s allegations are untrue and “trumped up” and that his policies on accepting patients have nothing to do with HB2.

The General Assembly passed the law on March 23 to block a move by the city of Charlotte to expand protections for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender individuals. That included allowing transgender people to use the bathroom that matched their sexual identity.

HB2, which Republican backers now commonly refer to as the “Bathroom Safety Law,” requires transgender people to use the public bathroom of the sex on their birth certificate.

The American Civil Liberties and other groups sued within days. Chris Brook, legal director for the ACLU of North Carolina, continues to argue that the true impact of HB2 goes far beyond restrooms, and he uses Newell’s and Trent’s experience to show how.

The couple met in 2013 and married in Freedom Park in December 2014. Last summer, Newell and Trent say, they decided to have a child.

Trent, 39, and a registered nurse, says she called Advanced Reproductive Concepts in early March. She says she told the clinic’s representative that she was part of a same-sex couple, had identified a sperm donor, and wanted in vitro treatment.

On April 1 – a week after HB2’s passage – the clinic called back. Trent said the same person who took her appointment a month earlier now told her the clinic was no longer taking “single-sex clients.”

Trent says she was temporarily confused, and assured her caller that she was not single, that she and Newell were married. She says the caller replied that the clinic was small and very busy and “We will not be accepting same-sex clients at this time.”

“I was shocked,” Trent said. “Once I hung up the phone, the reality set in and I was heartbroken. I felt shame.”

Brook said the clinic’s response is akin to a restaurant announcing that it will only serve “white or straight people” on crowded days. “Regardless of the capacity of the clinic, that’s discrimination.”

Under Charlotte’s former LGBT protections, Trent and Newell could have filed a “public accommodations” complaint with the city’s Community Relation’s Committee for investigation or mediation.

HB2 blocked that, Brook said. “We’ve talked about bathrooms, and understandably so, but HB2 is an attack on the entire LGBT community, making it hard for them to access services that everybody else takes for granted.”

Dr. Mark Jutras, owner and medical director of Advanced Reproductive Concepts, told the Observer that the allegations against his clinic are untrue. He said Trent and Newell never had an appointment, and that the clinic had stopped handling donor sperm cases regardless of sexual orientation.

That decision has nothing to do with HB2, said Jutras, who’s been practicing for more than 25 years and moved to Charlotte in 2007. He said donor sperm cases were not lucrative and were rarely requested.

“We’re a small clinic. You can’t do everything. We’ve looked at (donor sperm cases) over and over again. It just doesn’t make any money.”

Trent and Newell say they have filed a complaint with the North Carolina Medical Board, and that their experience with the clinic persuaded them to join the ACLU lawsuit.

“Kelly and I are very private people,” she said. “We’re putting ourselves out in the public because this law harms normal, everyday people. This is bigger than us.

“The bill has made it OK to harm LGBT people. North Carolina is better than that.”

Researcher Maria David contributed.

Michael Gordon: 704-358-5095, @MikeGordonOBS

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