Spellings assured reporters in a conference call Friday the university’s compliance, explained in a memo from April 5, does not indicate its support. Folt issued a statement that evening reaffirming Spellings’ remarks.
“It is in no way an endorsement of this law,” Spellings said. “The concerns (are) that this guidance has engendered a belief that we are driving hard forward on support for the law, which is not the case.”
North Carolina Gov. Pat McCrory signed House Bill 2 on March 23 after a special session in the General Assembly. The law limits protections for LGBT people at the local level and requires transgender people to use the bathrooms of their biological sex.
While Folt said in a campus-wide email Friday that UNC’s nondiscrimination policies will not be affected, the school will face other difficulties — including recruitment of donors and students.
“There are implications to us, ranging from conferences that will no longer send delegates to North Carolina and our campus; concerns and a pause among some prospective students, faculty, researchers and staff,” she said.
Folt reiterated that the law includes no provisions on enforcement. But she said UNC-CH specifically hopes to make gender-neutral, single-occupancy bathrooms more available, as Spellings’ memo suggests.
Student activists system-wide took to their campus bathrooms to protest the law Friday, according to various Facebook posts.
Nada Merghani, an organizer for the UNC-Wilmington demonstration and an officer of the school’s Pride organization, said the sit-in was intended to make transgender students feel welcome.
“We were just sitting there in front of the bathroom with the (LGBT) pride flag, just letting trans students know that they can continue using the bathroom that matches their identity and that there are people on campus that support doing that,” she said.
Merghani said regardless of Spellings’ personal opinion of House Bill 2, she did not do enough to advocate for UNC-system students.
“If you’re going to be the president of the entire UNC system, you have a moral obligation to protect not just some students, but all students — meaning your LGBT students, meaning your trans students,” she said.
The American Civil Liberties Union of North Carolina, Lambda Legal and Equality NC — all of which have questioning House Bill 2’s constitutionality — criticized Spellings’ memo prior to her call with reporters.
“It’s incredibly disappointing that the University of North Carolina has concluded it is required to follow this discriminatory measure at the expense of the privacy, safety and well-being of its students and employees, particularly those who are transgender,” the organizations said in a joint statement.
And the N.C. NAACP suggested in a news conference Saturday that a massive sit-in movement should be held at the N.C. General Assembly if the law is not repealed by April 21.
“We cannot be silent in the face of this race-based, class-based, homophobic attack on wage earners, civil rights and the LGBTQ community,” said Rev. William Barber, president of the N.C. NAACP, in the press release.
Spellings said she understands staff and students’ concerns about the signal House Bill 2 sends.
“Broadly, there’s a sense of fear, of anger, questions about what’s next,” she said. “Questions that, ‘Is this a state that is unwelcoming to people of all kinds?’ And this particular law suggests that this might be the case.”