With a simple sign outside a busy arena bathroom, the Democratic National Convention is thumbing its nose at North Carolina’s House Bill 2.
“All-Gender Restroom,” the sign says. Inside, male and female convention delegates use side-by-side private stalls and wash their hands together.
While the Wells Fargo Center also has single-gender bathrooms this week, the “all-gender” facility is meant to be transgender-friendly.
By contrast, Republican lawmakers in North Carolina passed HB2 into law in March, requiring people in government facilities to use the bathroom that corresponds with their birth certificate. They argued that a Charlotte ordinance allowing transgender people to use the bathroom of the gender which they identify would have led to the end of single-sex bathrooms.
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Democrats using the all-gender bathroom didn’t seem bothered by the setup.
Wendy May, who’s one of two transgender delegates from North Carolina, said she’s visited the bathroom and views it as a “unity” bathroom.
“It’s very interesting,” May said. “I have a trans bathroom at home, so I’m used to it.”
But May, a military veteran who’s running for county commissioner in conservative Johnston County, said she’s still been using the women’s bathroom because it’s closer to her seat in the convention hall.
Other North Carolina delegates praised the all-gender bathroom as one of several ways the convention is opposing laws such as HB2.
“I think that’s a really cool thing to see,” said Uriah Ward, a delegate from Greenville. “More than anything, it signals inclusion. It draws a contrast with the Republican Party convention, which was all about blaming different groups for the problems in our country.”
Two of the three convention speakers from North Carolina this week have talked about HB2. And the Democratic Party’s platform specifically notes that it “opposes all state efforts to discriminate against LGBT individuals, including legislation that restricts the right to access public spaces.”
The platform also calls for federal law to specifically protect against lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender discrimination – protections that existed in several North Carolina communities before HB2 struck down all nondiscrimination ordinances and replaced them with a statewide nondiscrimination standard that doesn’t mention sexual orientation or gender identity.
Several North Carolina delegates said HB2 is one of the first topics Democrats from other states bring up when introduced to them. Delegates have been passing out anti-HB2 buttons to bring attention to the cause.
“We used to be known for our exceptional school system,” said Ray McKinnon of Charlotte. “Now we’re known for our hate.”
Randy Voller, a delegate and former Pittsboro mayor, said other states now view North Carolina as among the country’s most socially conservative. “When you go to these events, we’re lumped in with Kansas, which everyone knows has gone way over with an ideological experiment,” he said.
But people outside North Carolina often aren’t familiar with HB2’s lesser-known provisions, including a ban on local governments requiring contractors to pay a higher minimum wage.
“What I do is educate them to let them know it’s much more than bathrooms,” said state Rep. Rodney Moore of Charlotte, who’s serving as a delegate this week.
Moore said he’s supportive of the DNC’s decision to offer a transgender-friendly bathroom. “It intensifies their commitment to equality for all folks regardless of sexual orientation,” he said. “We need to see more and more leadership in that area.”
May said she’s noticed a rapid improvement in attitudes toward transgender people. She said she was welcomed to a Democratic Party veterans council event this week, just weeks after the military announced it will end a ban on transgender people serving openly.
And she’s excited to hear Sarah McBride make history Thursday night as the first transgender person to speak at a major party convention.
She thinks HB2 will be a prominent issue in this year’s election, “straight down from (gubernatorial candidate) Roy Cooper to county commissioner races.”
“You can’t have safety without equality,” May said. “You can’t have education without equality. You can’t have an economy without equality.”
May said if she’s able to defeat a Republican incumbent in Johnston County this November, she’ll be the first transgender person holding elected office in the state. “Hopefully in 10 years we’ll even have a trans governor,” she said.
While the Republican convention last week in Cleveland did not feature any “all-gender” bathrooms, N.C. Republican Party Director Dallas Woodhouse said the Democrats’ move wouldn’t be illegal under HB2.
“The DNC’s decision for ‘all-gender bathrooms’ is consistent with HB2, as HB2 allows private entities to set their own bathroom policies, unlike the forceful nature of Charlotte’s illegal ordinance on private entities,” he said in an email Wednesday.