North Carolina signals reversal on transgender bathroom law

© REUTERS/Jonathan Drake File photo of North Carolina Governor-elect Roy Cooper speaking to supporters at a victory rally in Raleigh



North Carolina’s governor-elect said on Monday a deal could soon bring the repeal of a state law limiting bathroom access for transgender people, following nine months of economic boycotts and protests over legislation protested as discriminatory.

Under the law adopted in March, North Carolina was the first U.S. state to ban transgender people from using government-run restrooms that match their gender identity. The law, which catapulted the state to the forefront of U.S. culture wars over lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) rights, has been blamed for hundreds of millions of dollars in economic losses and the relocation of major sporting events.

In a surprise development, incoming Governor Roy Cooper, a Democrat, said on Monday that Republican legislative leaders agreed to call a special session as soon as Tuesday to repeal the law, known as House Bill (H.B.) 2.

“I hope they will keep their word to me,” Cooper said in a statement. “Full repeal will help to bring jobs, sports and entertainment events back and will provide the opportunity for strong LGBT protections in our state.”

Earlier on Monday, the city council in Charlotte, the state’s largest city, voted to remove local non-discrimination measures that triggered the state’s bathroom legislation. The city this year added protections for marital and familial status, sexual orientation, gender expression and gender identity.

Noting that state law pre-empted their efforts, city council members urged the state legislature to repeal HB 2 immediately.

Groups advocating for LGBT rights praised the prospective repeal, despite misgivings about how it came about.

“This will be an important step for North Carolinians to move forward, but it never should have come at the cost of protections for LGBT people living in Charlotte,” said Sarah Gillooly, policy director for the American Civil Liberties Union of North Carolina, one of the groups challenging the law in federal court.

Fallout over the issue sealed the defeat of Republican Governor Pat McCrory in a razor-thin election seen as a referendum on the bathroom debate.

McCrory’s office said he would call a special session following developments in Charlotte, but did not say when. In a statement, a governor’s spokesman called Charlotte’s “sudden reversal with little notice after the gubernatorial election” proof that opponents seized the issue for political gain.

Last week, the state’s Republican-dominated legislature passed measures to curtail the executive authority of the incoming Democratic governor.

Lawmakers in a few Republican-led states, including Texas, are considering similar transgender bathroom limits when their legislatures convene next year.

(Reporting by Letitia Stein and Jon Herskovitz; Editing by Alan Crosby and Dan Grebler)


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