Unprecedented wave of anti-LGBT bills prompting vetoes, lawsuits in the states
Lambda Legal and the ACLU filed a lawsuit in federal court Monday to challenge the constitutionality of a law passed by North Carolina last week to prevent local governments from protecting LGBT people against discrimination. The announcement came the same day Georgia’s Republican governor vetoed a bill that claimed to protect the freedom of religious officials to decline to perform a marriage ceremony that violates their religious beliefs.
ACLU Advocacy and Policy Counsel Eunice Rho said there are “more anti-LGBT bills this year than in any other time.” She estimated that “almost 200” have been introduced.
The North Carolina and Georgia laws are part of a concerted effort nationwide to pass state legislation that disadvantages LGBT people.
Earlier this month, South Dakota’s Republican Governor Dennis Daugaard vetoed a bill similar to North Carolina’s, though it also required transgender people to use a “single-occupancy” restrooms or locker rooms to use.
On March 22, Kansas’ Republican Governor Sam Brownback signed an anti-LGBT bill that prohibits colleges and universities from denying to any “religious student association” any benefit available to other student groups because the religious group requires members to “comply with the association’s sincerely held religious beliefs” and “standards of conduct.”
More than a dozen states have considered or are still considering legislation directed against LGBT people. Two bills seeking to limit use of public bathrooms by transgender people failed in the Virginia legislature last month, including one that sought to fine students $50 if they used the wrong bathroom. Similar bills died in Kentucky and Tennessee. The Illinois legislature has a similar bill pending before a House committee. Other states considering laws relating to gender identity and/or religious justifications for discrimination against LGBT people include Indiana, Mississippi, Missouri, Oklahoma, Washington, and Wisconsin.
Massachusetts is considering a pro-trans bill; to provide “equal access to public places regardless of gender identity.”
The North Carolina law, by far, received the most attention, largely because of its scope. The law, which takes effect April 1, prohibits transgender people from using a public restroom for the gender they are living and bars any local government from having an ordinance that prohibits discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity.
North Carolina’s Republican Governor Pat McCrory signed two-punch law on March 23 and the reaction was immediate and widespread.
The National Basketball Association and the National Collegiate Athletic Association both issued statements saying the state’s new law might prompt them to withdraw upcoming major events from Charlotte. Carolina’s National Hockey League team issued a statement saying it is “devoted to providing a welcoming and respectful environment for all fans.”
American Airlines, which has its hub in Charlotte, said, “Laws that allow such discrimination go against our fundamental belief of equality and are bad for the economies of the states in which they are enacted.”
The board of aldermen of the town of Carrboro, North Carolina, passed a resolution reaffirming its support for LGBT people and called for the rainbow flag to be raised over town hall Monday. The Mayor of San Francisco has banned city employees from any publicly funded travel to North Carolina on city business.
The Lambda-ACLU lawsuit says the North Carolina law violates the right of two transgender persons and a lesbian to equal protection.
ACLU attorney Chase Strangio said during a telephone press conference Monday that “this has been a really hard year” for the trans community, climaxing in the North Carolina bill attacking the rights of all LGBT people.
Lambda attorney Tara Borelli noted that Charlotte’s human rights ordinance was carefully debated and considered “in stark contrast” to the state legislature’s “rush to target the LGBT community.”
Borelli said the law violates the right to privacy of transgender people and violates various federal laws.
The Georgia bill passed on close votes in the House and Senate March 16. Since then, said Georgia Governor Nathan Deal, he has been hearing “insults” and “threats” from both supporters and opponents of the bill, including major corporations doing business in the state.
“Some of those in the religious community who support this bill have resorted to insults that question my moral convictions and my character,” said Deal. “Some within the business community who oppose this bill have resorted to threats of withdrawing jobs from our state. I do not respond well to insults or threats. The people of Georgia deserve a leader who will made sound judgements based on solid reasons that are not inflamed by emotion. That is what I intend to do.”
In his statement Monday, Deal suggested he was concerned that the legislation might “give rise to state-sanctioned discrimination” and that he does not believe the legislation is needed to protect the faith-based community.
Lambda Legal, the ACLU, and Equality North Carolina issued a press release Sunday night, saying they would challenge the law in federal court.
The Carolina law requires that all public schools facilities have bathrooms or changing facilities “designated for and used only by students based on their biological sex.” Biological sex is defined by what gender is indicated on a person’s birth certificate. It also declares that state law concerning “discriminatory practices” will “supersede and preempt any ordinance” or regulation of any local government. North Carolina state law does not prohibit discrimination based on sexual orientation or gender identity.
“This outrageous new law not only strips away the ability of local jurisdictions to protect LGBT people from discrimination, but it goes further and targets transgender students who deserve to be treated equally at school — not harassed and excluded,” said Human Rights Campaign President Chad Griffin.
Lambda’s Borelli said it’s not yet clear how the transgender bathroom provision in North Carolina will be enforced, but that many transgender students have made school officials aware of their special needs and legal activists have heard that some school officials are calling parents of transgender students to warm them that they will not be able to use the bathroom most appropriate to their gender identity.
North Carolina Governor McCrory allowed the state legislature to hold a special session just to consider the measure aimed specifically at an ordinance approved by the Charlotte City Council in February. The city sought to prohibit discrimination based on their gender identity. But the new state law, “Public Facilities Privacy and Security Act,” prohibits any local government from passing non-discrimination ordinances.
HRC said legislators had only five minutes to review the bill before voting on it and that Democrats in the Senate walked out, rather than vote on the measure.
In a statement released Wednesday, McCrory called Charlotte’s ordinance a “radical breach of trust and security under the false argument of equal access” and said it endangered the “basic expectation of privacy in the most personal of settings, a restroom or locker room.”
Mara Keisling, executive director of the National Center for Transgender Equality, said 76 percent of transgender people do not have an updated birth certificate.
Jenny Pizer, law and policy director for Lambda Legal, said the law makes it impossible for transgender people to stay in school, hold jobs, or access public services because “as a practical and safety matter” they are barred from using bathroom facilities.
The legislature’s debate echoed remarks heard frequently during the recent battle over a non-discrimination ordinance in Houston. A referendum in Houston overturned a non-discrimination law there that prohibited numerous categories of discrimination, including race, religion, sexual orientation, and gender identity. But in Houston, the referendum simply repealed the ordinance. In North Carolina, the new law repeals all existing local ordinances that prohibit sexual orientation and gender identity discrimination and forecloses any future local ordinances.
According to HRC, North Carolina is the first state “to enact such a law attacking transgender students.” Kansas is bucking to be next. Kansas legislators on March 16 introduced bills to the House and Senate that call for all public schools to label restrooms by gender and enables students who encounter “a person of the opposite sex” in their restroom or locker to sue the school for $2,500 for “each instance” and monetary damages for “all psychological, emotional, and physical harm suffered.”