North Carolina Universities Face Backlash for LGBT Discrimination After Decision on HB 2
Posted By Donna Fuscaldo on April 8, 2016 at 4:30 pm
Inclusion for everyone may no longer be the case on some North Carolina colleges and universities, thanks to the state’s new Public Facilities Privacy & Security Act, or HB 2. Under HB 2, students on public colleges and universities must use the bathroom that matches the gender listed on their birth certificate, and not the one they most closely identify with. The bill also prohibits local governments in North Carolina from passing LGBT-inclusive nondiscrimination protections.
HB 2 is seen as a blow to the LGBT community, which has long fought for equal rights in the state. College campuses are ground zero because many are state-funded in North Carolina. “What it [HB 2] does is put college campuses and public institutions in direct conflict with the Federal Law Title IX that guarantees educational equity for young people, and that includes transgender young people,” says Shane Windmeyer, founder and executive director of Campus Pride in Charlotte, North Carolina. “It could put $4.5 billion in federal aid money in jeopardy because of the state.”
Charlotte’s non-discrimination ordinance prompts HB 2
In February, the city of Charlotte passed a non-discrimination ordinance that protected LGBT individuals when using public bathrooms and protected city workers from policies that discriminate based on sexual orientation. It was those ordinances that prompted North Carolina Governor Patrick McCrory to sign HB 2 into law a month later in a special session of the North Carolina General Assembly.
Outcry to the bill, which many see as discriminatory, was swift, coming from corporations, activists, students and individuals. It has prompted PayPal to halt plans to open an operations center in Charlotte, costing the city 400 jobs. It has also sparked renewed calls for North Carolina’s Governor McCrory to overturn the act. As a result, students are increasingly organizing – Windmeyer says protest and rallies are planned throughout the month.
Supporters of HB 2 argue that the bill is in the best interest of everyone. According to the North Carolina Family Policy Council, a nonprofit dedicated to preserving family values, Charlotte’s ordinances would place citizens at risk. Meanwhile, the Christian Action League said on its website that Governor McCrory is being “demonized” and that the legislation is supported by the “vast majority” of North Carolinians.
Although some groups are in favor of HB 2, many colleges and universities in North Carolina don’t fall into that camp. Private schools, including Duke University, Elon University, Guilford College, Davidson College, Queens University of Charlotte and Wake Forest University all issued statements denouncing the legislation. Queens University of Charlotte, for example, said it will “continue with [their] initiatives to provide non-gender-specific restrooms in in each residence hall as well as in central locations on campus.”
UNC president instructs public university system to comply with HB 2
State schools, however, are an entirely different story. They are dependent on state funding and have to comply with the rule. This week, the University of North Carolina President Margaret Spellings said in a memo to Chancellors that schools must follow the law, which “requires every multiple-occupancy bathroom and changing facility to be designated for and used only by persons based on their biological sex.”
Spellings also said colleges and universities can provide single-occupancy bathrooms or changing facilities and designate them as gender-neutral. She encouraged institutions to “consider assembling and making information available about the locations of designated single-occupancy bathrooms and changing facilities on campus.”
Human Rights Campaign (HRC), the nation’s largest lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) civil rights organization issued a press release yesterday on UNC’s decision to follow through with HB 2. “This decision by UNC President Margaret Spellings not only inflicts real harm on transgender students in the UNC system, but also risks all federal funding flowing to the university, including federal student loans and grants to the thousands of students attending the state’s 17 campuses,” Chad Griffin, president of HRC said in the press release.
HB 2 has also prompted a lawsuit, filed by the American Civil Liberties Union of North Carolina, Equality North Carolina, and three individuals, including a UNC student, faculty member, and staff member. The groups said when filing the lawsuit that “by singling out LGBT people for disfavored treatment and explicitly writing discrimination against transgender people into state law, H.B. 2 violates the most basic guarantees of equal treatment and the U.S. Constitution.”
In response to Spelling’s support of HB 2, the groups said it was “incredibly disappointing,” arguing that the bill violates federal law and puts the state at risk of losing billions of dollars in federal aid.
Mississippi, Kansas pass their own laws
While North Carolina is at the center of the latest battle, it not the only state implementing or considering laws that would discriminate against the LGBT community. Mississippi just passed the so-called religious freedom bill, or HB 1523, which protects people who refuse to provide services because they have a religious opposition to same-sex marriage or transgender people. It was signed into law by Governor Phil Bryant. Proponents of the bill argue that it protects the rights of people who are against homosexuality but live in a world where same-sex marriage is legal. The bill’s opponents see it as state-sanctioned discrimination. Last month, Kansas became the eighth state to allow religious groups on college campuses to restrict membership to students who share their same beliefs.
These bills are being passed in a political year, which means they could significantly influence the discourse in and even the outcome of the 2016 election. Of HB 2’s passage in North Carolina, Windmeyer said, “I don’t think safety is what they were thinking about.” He points out, “What they are forgetting is that many fair-minded North Carolinians across the state have LGBT loved ones and are not going to stand for it when it comes time to vote in November.”