Metro Weekly

North Carolina’s “fix” to HB 2 isn’t winning any praise

Change allows people to sue for wrongful termination -- but not based on sexual orientation or gender identity

North Carolina State Capitol in Raleigh
North Carolina State Capitol in Raleigh

The North Carolina General Assembly’s regular session ended with lawmakers making only a minor alteration to the state’s controversial HB 2 law.

Lawmakers restored a provision that allows people who believe they have been the victims of employment discrimination based on factors like age, sex or race to sue for wrongful termination, reports Reuters. That right was previously eliminated in HB 2’s sweeping language preventing local governments from adopting their own nondiscrimination ordinances that go beyond what the state recognizes as protected classes. The amended version now heads to Gov. Pat McCrory (R), who is expected to sign it into law.

But the prohibition on local ordinances, particularly those that would extend protections to the LGBT community, remain in place. Also remaining intact is a provision requiring transgender people to use the restroom, locker room, or other facility consistent only with their biological or assigned sex at birth.

Senate Leader Phil Berger (R-Rockingham) stood by the overall intent of HB 2, saying in a statement: “Protecting the safety and privacy of North Carolina families by keeping grown men out of bathrooms, shower facilities and changing rooms with women and young girls has always been our primary objective.”

Initially, the “fix” offered by North Carolina lawmakers was not limited to restoring the right-to-sue provision, according to The Charlotte Observer. Other proposed changes have included harsher criminal penalties for sex offenses committed in bathrooms and changing facilities, and creating a “certificate of sex reassignment” for transgender North Carolinians who come from states without a way to update their birth certificates.

That last provision was objected to by LGBT advocates, who point out that many transgender people may not be able to afford surgery or want to undergo it to have their gender changed on vital documents, and expressed concerns that it would essentially create a registry of people who had undergone transition surgery, thereby exposing private medical information to the public.

McCrory, who is up for re-election this fall, and other supporters of HB 2 proposed the changes in an effort to placate the National Basketball Association (NBA), which has threatened to move its February 2017 All-Star Game out of Charlotte if the law’s most onerous anti-LGBT provisions stay in effect.

“It probably means that we’re going to have to come back for a special session because we’re going to lose the All-Star Game if we don’t,” said Rep. Chris Sgro (D-Guilford), who is also the executive director of Equality North Carolina.

Other LGBT groups had previously blasted the leaked version of the “fix” to the law, arguing that only full repeal of HB 2 is sufficient. Chad Griffin, the president of the Human Rights Campaign, had called the proposed fix “nothing more than HB 2.0.” The organization also criticized the legislature for adjourning without addressing the biggest objections to HB 2.

“Legislators shamefully walked away from the job today without fixing the deeply harmful and outrageous mess they created with HB 2,” JoDee Winterhof, HRC’s Senior Vice President for Policy and Political Affairs, said in a statement. “HB 2 puts LGBTQ people in harm’s way every single day it remains on the books and has cost the state not only its reputation but millions of dollars. Let me be clear: this is not over and they will be held to account. Lawmakers may have run out the clock on this short session, but they won’t be able to run away from North Carolina’s voters in November.”

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

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