Gov. Roy Cooper's recent executive order allows some transgender people in North Carolina to use bathrooms according to their gender identity.
Executive Order No. 24, issued Oct. 18, only applies to people under the authority of the state's executive branch, including those contracted by it. The order also mandated that executive branch agencies may not discriminate on the basis of individual identities.
This is the first change in policy regarding gender identity and bathroom usage in the state since Cooper signed House Bill 142 in March. The bill prohibited any public institution or municipality from regulating access to restrooms. House Bill 142 expires on Dec. 1, 2020.
Maxine Eichner, a UNC School of Law professor, said House Bill 142 may only be repealed by the state legislature or a state or federal court.
Ben Graumann, spokesperson for Equality NC, said he would like to see full non-discriminatory policies put in place to protect LGBTQ+ individuals in the state.
“It might represent some narrow improvements for LGBTQ+ North Carolinians,” he said. “By no means does it actually offer full protections or rectify any of the harms that were caused by HB2.”
The order does not require private organizations to abide by these anti-discriminatory protections. State facilities not under the supervision of the governor, including the UNC-system, are not affected either.
Mike Meno, spokesperson for the American Civil Liberties Union of North Carolina, said that the executive order does not provide comprehensive protections across the state.
"If you look at where it applies, it’s in agencies that the governor has direct authority over, but towns across the state should have the ability to pass their own non-discrimination policies,” he said.
Terri Phoenix, the director of UNC’s LGBTQ+ Center, said it would take state-wide or federal legislation to provide LGBTQ citizens with sufficient protections from discrimination.
“Any time that you are able to extend protections from discrimination, that is a wonderful thing; however, there are a lot of areas that aren’t covered by the executive order," said Phoenix, who identifies as a transgender man. "As an individual citizen, I do not feel that hopeful overall about the direction that our society is headed.”
Opposition to Cooper’s executive order has been a vocal minority, Eichner said.
In a statement last Thursday, Lt. Gov. Dan Forest said that the executive order creates a loophole for pedophiles, stalkers and perverts.
“All bathrooms at state rest areas, parks and museums will now be fertile ground for sexual deviants who will falsely claim to be transgender to gain protected access to our women and children,” he said.
N.C. Senate Leader Phil Berger, R-Guilford, and N.C. House Speaker Tim Moore, R-Cleveland, released a joint statement last Thursday in opposition, calling for the North Carolina judicial system to reject the order.
“Roy Cooper made a deal with the business community and the legislature to repeal HB2 and put divisive social issues that North Carolinians are sick of hearing about behind us, and his attempt to resurrect these issues shows he acted in bad faith and lied about wanting to end the focus on HB2,” the statement said.
Tami Fitzgerald, executive director of the North Carolina Values Coalition, said transgender North Carolinians had the same rights as the rest of the population after House Bill 142.
“Yes, they have the same rights," she said. "What they don’t have the right to do is go to the bathroom that they identify with that day.”
Fitzgerald also released a statement condemning Cooper’s action, likening transgender people’s use of restrooms to the predatory behavior of Harvey Weinstein.
Eichner said that she is very optimistic for the future rights of LGBTQ+ North Carolinians, given the progress America has made since 2010.
“What happens in this shorter term, though, is more up for grabs,” she said.
The executive order is effective immediately and will remain in effect until the governor amends or rescinds it.
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