Metro Weekly

North Carolina governor issues order extending limited LGBTQ protections

Order may be bolstered by settlement allowing transgender people to use facilities matching their gender identity

Roy Cooper – Photo: Facebook.

North Carolina LGBTQ residents may get some relief from both an executive order issued by Gov. Roy Cooper and a proposed settlement to lawsuit over the law that replaced the state’s controversial HB 2 statute.

Cooper, a Democrat, was a longtime opponent of HB 2, which placed strict limitations on what facilities transgender people could use and prevented localities from passing their own nondiscrimination laws. In his executive order, Cooper reaffirmed some of the nondiscrimination protections for state employees put in place by former Gov. Pat McCory (R) to deflect from his role in pushing HB 2.

Under the order, state agencies, boards, commissions, or departments under the office of the governor are prohibited from discriminating based on sexual orientation or gender identity in employment, the provisions of government services, the administration of government programs, and the awarding of state contracts or grants. The order also grants many of those same powers to localities within the state.

While Cooper’s executive order is a step in the right direction, many equality advocates note that more must be done to combat the types of discrimination visited upon members of the LGBTQ community.

“While this executive order may represent some narrow improvements for LGBTQ North Carolinians, by no means does it offer full protections or rectify the tremendous harm caused by HB 2 and continued harm from HB 142,” JoDee Winterhof, the senior vice president of policy and political affairs for the Human Rights Campaign, said in a statement. “Governor Cooper and state lawmakers must show leadership on the real solution for North Carolina — statewide, LGBTQ nondiscrimination protections.”

Mara Keisling, the executive director of the National Center for Transgender Equality, said the order would have some significant impact on transgender North Carolinians, in particular, by ensuring that LGBTQ state employees cannot be fired simply because of their sexual orientation or gender identity.

“But it’s not nearly enough,” she said, “especially when the state of North Carolina continues to sanction and promote anti-transgender discrimination under HB 142.”

Cooper’s executive order coincides with a proposed settlement in the case challenging HB 142, which purported to replace HB 2 while keeping some of its most pernicious provisions in place. The settlement, which must be approved by the court, asks the court to decree that the replacement law does not and cannot bar transgender people from using single-sex, multi-user facilities that match their gender identity.

There are some setbacks to the deal, however. First, the provision that prohibits cities and localities from being able to pass and enforce their own nondiscrimination ordinances will remain in effect until Dec. 1, 2020. Additionally, after that date, all localities will still be prevented from passing ordinances or legislation that would explicitly allow transgender people to use restrooms, locker rooms, and other changing facilities matching their gender identity (though they would no longer be banned from doing so).

“Nothing can make up for the cruel and senseless attacks transgender people have faced in North Carolina, but I am hopeful that the court will agree to clarify the law so that we can live our lives in less fear,” Joaquín Carcaño, a transgender man and the lead plaintiff in the lawsuit against the state, said in a statement.

“HB 2 and HB 142 remain shameful and discriminatory attacks on LGBT people that should never have been signed into law, but under this proposed consent decree North Carolina would finally affirm the right of transgender people to use facilities that match their gender,” added Karen Anderson, the executive director of the ACLU of North Carolina, which helped negotiate the proposed settlement, along with Lambda Legal.

Simone Bell, the southern director for Lambda Legal, said that even if approved, the settlement will not stop LGBTQ advocates from pushing for state lawmaker to pass comprehensive nondiscrimination protections for all North Carolinians, though it will lessen the hostility and friction that currently exists between those on either side of the debate over transgender access to shared public facilities.

“We are pleased to have reached a resolution with the governor that supports the right of transgender people to use facilities that match who they are,” Bell said in a statement. “The state-sanctioned discrimination of HB 2 and HB 142 and the hollow attempts by North Carolina’s public officials to find a solution opened a deep wound that continues to bleed into the lives of LGBT North Carolinians, but the proposed consent decree can be the start of a healing process.”

John Riley is the local news reporter for Metro Weekly. He can be reached at jriley@metroweekly.com