Metro Weekly

University of North Carolina will abide by anti-gay law’s provisions

President Margaret Spellings' memo says UNC system must follow law until it is invalidated by the courts

Louis Round Wilson Library at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill (Photo: Ildar Sagdejev, via Wikimedia).

Louis Round Wilson Library at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill (Photo: Ildar Sagdejev, via Wikimedia).

The University of North Carolina (UNC) has announced that it will follow North Carolina’s anti-gay law HB 2, also known as the “Public Facilities Privacy & Security Act.”

According to a memo released by the university, UNC President Margaret Spellings, who previously served as the Secretary of Education under the administration of former President George W. Bush, said that the UNC system would begin implementing the requirements of the act. The act mandates that multiple-occupancy bathrooms and changing facilities in government buildings be designated only for a single sex, and that people use only the bathroom that corresponds to their biological sex at birth.

In answering questions about the ramifications of implementation, Spelling said that the university would not be changing its nondiscrimination policies, which would remain in effect. She also noted that HB 2 does not contain any provisions relating to enforcement of the biological sex rule for restroom or changing facility use, though the university will designate each multiple-occupancy restroom or facility as pertaining to one particular gender. The university will still be allowed, under the act, to set up and provide information on the locations of single-occupancy facilities, and make them available to students.

Spellings’ memo also included information on the lawsuit filed against the state of North Carolina and the university system over HB 2. Attorney General Roy Cooper (D) has refused to defend the constitutionality of the new law, but will work with the university to make other arrangements to ensure it has legal counsel as the lawsuit moves forward. 

“Like all public agencies, the University is required to fulfill its obligations under the law unless or until the court directs otherwise,” Spellings wrote in the memo.

In response, the four groups suing the state and the university system over the law — the American Civil Liberties Union, ACLU of North Carolina, Lambda Legal and Equality North Carolina — released a joint statement blasting the university’s decision to comply with and not challenge the law.

“It’s incredibly disappointing that the University of North Carolina has concluded it is required to follow this discriminatory measure at the expense of the privacy, safety, and wellbeing of its students and employees, particularly those who are transgender,” the statement reads. “By requiring people to use restrooms that do not correspond to their gender identity, this policy not only endangers and discriminates against transgender people — it also violates federal law.”

The pro-LGBT groups also note that the Obama administration is considering whether HB 2 makes the state ineligible for billions of dollars in federal aid because the law violates Title IX’s prohibitions on sex discrimination. The U.S. Department of Education has previously found that anti-transgender discrimination, including in restrooms and changing facilities, constitutes sex discrimination. Each year, North Carolina receives more than $4.5 billion in federal funding for secondary and post-secondary schools.

“Not only does this policy fail to protect my rights as a loyal and hard-working employee and make it harder for me to do my job, it sides with ignorance and fear,” Joaquín Carcaño, an employee at UNC-Chapel Hill and a transgender man who is the lead plaintiff in the lawsuit. “All I want is to use the appropriate restroom, in peace, just like everyone else. But now I am put in the terrible position of either going into the women’s room where I don’t belong and am uncomfortable, or breaking the law.”

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

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