Allowing transgendered men and women to choose the public restrooms and locker rooms they wish to use is close to the top of North Carolina Gov.-elect Roy Cooper’s agenda.
Gov. Pat McCrory (R) conceded the November election to the state’s attorney general a few days shy of a month after North Carolinians cast their ballots.
Two days later, Cooper spelled out his top priorities. The list included establishing bipartisan groups to work on legislative issues such as education, renewable energy, criminal justice reform and blowing up House Bill 2.
“With this election, North Carolina is on its way to repairing its reputation,” Cooper (D) said during a victory rally Dec. 6. “Let’s finish the job and repeal House Bill 2.”
House Bill 2 was approved by the North Carolina Legislature and signed by McCrory in response to a Charlotte, N.C., City Council LGBT non-discrimination ordinance. It allowed people, especially transgendered people, to use the restroom of their choice, rather than the one matching their gender assigned at birth.
The North Carolina law allows only transgendered people who have undergone sex-change surgery and have an updated birth certificate to show the gender switch to use a public restroom of their choice.
Otherwise, people have to use the restroom or locker room that matches their birth gender.
HB 2 was also intended to block local governments, like the Charlotte City Council, from enacting ordinances to supersede state law.
As PJM reported earlier this year, the NBA moved its All-Star Game out of the state because of HB 2. The NCAA and Atlantic Coast Conference followed suit, as well, and changed the locales of their championship tournaments.
Cooper has never supported HB 2. As attorney general, he refused to argue the state’s side of the issue in court.
“This is about more than losing sports games,” Cooper said in a video released by his campaign in September. “It is about communities in North Carolina suffering real economic blows.”
Legislative leaders and McCrory offered to erase much of HB 2 if only Charlotte officials would rescind their human rights ordinance. City officials, as PJM reported, refused. So that window of possible compromise closed.
But many on the liberal side of this debate are thinking Democrats won’t have to compromise to prevail. They see the Cooper victory as a mandate to open the bathroom doors.
Equality North Carolina and the Human Rights Campaign released a poll in December that showed McCrory was defeated by Cooper because of voters’ opposition to HB 2.
Chad Griffin, president of HRC, called HB2 the “critical issue” in North Carolina’s gubernatorial election.
“Voters soundly rejected Pat McCrory and sent a clear signal that anti-LGBTQ politicking is now a liability to candidates, no matter their party,” Griffin said.
Allison Scott, a transgender activist who works with groups like the Campaign for Southern Equality, told WLOS-TV that she’s heard Democrats in the Legislature say they are ready to work on overturning HB 2.
“I think you’ll see Democrats introduce a bill [to repeal] shortly after the session starts,” Scott said.
Cooper told the AP that he’s optimistic he will be able to repeal the law.
“I believe that most or all of the legislators understand the severe economic impact of House Bill 2 that it’s having on us and that something needs to be done,” Cooper said in a phone interview.
Equality North Carolina executive director Chris Sgro can’t imagine how Republican legislators wouldn’t be trembling for fear of their jobs after seeing the way voters rose up against McCrory.
“Pat McCrory refused to listen to the people of North Carolina, and as a result the people stood up and ousted him from office,” said Sgro.
Here’s the problem with that kind of thinking: people who back HB 2 are talking just as stridently to Republicans and warning them not to back down.
Tami Fitzgerald, executive director of one of the groups that supported HB 2 from the beginning, was even more adamant about not budging even an inch.
“North Carolina Values Coalition will continue to work with the leaders in the House & Senate to assure grown men are never allowed access into women’s bathrooms, locker rooms or changing facilities and that businesses are free to live and work according to their deeply held religious beliefs,” Fitzgerald vowed in a Dec. 5 statement.
“We want to put Governor-elect Cooper on notice that the citizens of North Carolina will not stand for any attempt by out-of-state interests to fundamentally change our values or compromise the privacy and safety of our children,” Fitzgerald added.
So, barring a massive Republican retreat from HB 2, North Carolina may have a Democrat as governor when the calendar turns to 2017, but the GOP still controls the state House and Senate with a veto-proof majority in each chamber.
In other words, beyond a bully pulpit, Cooper doesn’t have much.
“He can pass rules, but there’s really no legislative action,” Chris Cooper, head of the political science department at Western Carolina University, told WLOS-TV. “Governors are largely symbolic figures.”