Partial win in fight over North Carolina
transgender bathroom law
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[August 29, 2016]
By Colleen Jenkins
WINSTON-SALEM, N.C. (Reuters) - North
Carolina's university system must allow two transgender students and a
transgender employee to use bathrooms matching their gender identity, a
U.S. judge ruled on Friday, in a partial victory for those fighting the
state's restrictive restroom law.
Most transgender people in North Carolina, however, will still be bound
by the law adopted in March that requires them to use bathrooms in
government buildings and public schools that correspond with the sex on
their birth certificate.
Bathroom access has become a flashpoint in the battle over transgender
rights in the United States. The North Carolina law has sparked boycotts
of the state by corporations, entertainers and the National Basketball
Association, which pulled its 2017 All-Star Game from Charlotte.
U.S. District Court Judge Thomas Schroeder said three plaintiffs
challenging the measure were likely to succeed at trial on their claim
that it violates the 1972 Title IX Act, which prohibits sex-based
discrimination by schools receiving federal funding.
“The individual transgender plaintiffs have clearly shown that they will
suffer irreparable harm in the absence of preliminary relief,” he wrote,
noting their assertions that single-occupant bathrooms were generally
unavailable at the University of North Carolina.
The judge said his order effectively returned all involved to the status
quo before the law passed, “wherein public agencies accommodated the
individual transgender plaintiffs on a case-by-case basis, rather than
applying a blanket rule to all people in all facilities under all
An estimated 0.6 percent of U.S. adults identify as transgender,
according to the Williams Institute at the UCLA School of Law. Debates
about which public restroom facilities they and transgender children
should use have divided courts, state legislatures and schools.
For now, the latest ruling means the students and university employee
who sued North Carolina will no longer face the humiliation of being
banned from using bathrooms aligned with their gender identity, said
Chris Brook, legal director of the American Civil Liberties Union of
But Brook said the judge's legal analysis signaled Schroeder was likely
to block the law in its entirety once the full case is heard in a trial
set for November. The measure, known as House Bill 2 or HB 2, also
barred local measures protecting lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender
people from discrimination.
"We think that we have strong arguments to invalidate all of the
provisions of HB 2 that target the LGBT community in the state," Brook
said in an interview.
Schroeder, an appointee of Republican former President George W. Bush,
heard oral arguments for the injunction on Aug. 1 in Winston-Salem.
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A gender-neutral bathroom is seen at the University of California,
Irvine in Irvine, California September 30, 2014. REUTERS/Lucy
Lawyers for Republican Governor Pat McCrory and other Republican
lawmakers who support the law said it offered common-sense
protection of state residents' privacy and safety, even though it
included no specific language for enforcement.
Bob Stephens, general counsel for the governor's office, noted the
limited scope of the ruling on Friday and said in a statement that
McCrory would continue to defend the law.
A Monmouth University Poll released on Wednesday showed the law
could hurt McCrory's re-election chances in November. The survey
showed the incumbent governor trailing his Democratic opponent and
found that 70 percent of North Carolina voters felt the bathroom
measure had hurt the state's reputation nationally.
In April, the 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals became the first
appeals court to find that transgender students are protected under
federal laws that bar sex-based discrimination. The court's
jurisdiction includes North Carolina.
But the U.S. Supreme Court voted in August to stay the order, which
would have allowed a transgender boy to use the boys' restroom at
his Virginia high school, until the high court considers the subject
North Carolina university system spokeswoman Joni Worthington said
in a statement on Friday that public universities had been "caught
in the middle of a conflict that we did not create between state law
and federal guidance" and welcomed court resolution of the issues.
(Additional reporting by Letitia Stein; Editing by Andrew Hay and
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