In a striking rebuke to the state’s infamously repealed anti-trans bathroom law, a federal court has ruled that transgender North Carolinians can use the restroom that aligns with their gender.
The Sunday night decision from a U.S. District Court is the first definitive answer on the state of transgender bathroom protections since “bathroom bill” HB 2 was repealed and replaced with HB 142 last year.
“This is a really important day in a very long and symbolic and painful battle in North Carolina for trans people,” said ACLU Staff Attorney Chase Strangio.
The ruling is the result of a federal lawsuit brought by the American Civil Liberties Union and Lambda Legal on behalf of six trans people, which aimed to challenge HB 142, the new law that has been widely condemned by LGBTQ advocates.
“For the past two and a half years, I have been unable to use restrooms in my home state without worrying that I will be subject to discrimination, harassment or even arrest,” said lead plaintiff Joaquin Carcaño in a statement. “Our community has faced so much discrimination because of HB 2 and HB 142, and this decision will give us more support to defend the rights and basic humanity of our community members across the state.”
North Carolina passed HB 2, also known as the Public Facilities Privacy and Security Act, in spring of 2016 against a wave of protest. The act mandated that trans people use the bathroom corresponding to their birth certificates. As businesses hurried to dissociate from the state, the Associated Press reported that over 12 years, North Carolina would lose $3.76 billion.
The fallout resulted in the ouster of embattled Governor Pat McCrory and the passage of HB 142. But Lambda Legal and the ACLU argued that the new law also spelled disaster for transgender residents because it effectively denied trans people bathroom access in government buildings, public universities and schools. It also left on the books a provision that scrapped local non-discrimination protections in places like Charlotte and Raleigh through 2020.
On Sunday, Judge Thomas Schroeder ruled that the suit challenging the ban on those protections could move forward, citing the constitution’s promise of equal protection under the law.
“Plaintiffs have plausibly alleged that the foreclosure of new or amended local non-discrimination ordinances relating to public accommodations impacts them disparately,” Schroeder wrote.
Last year, the ACLU, Lambda Legal, Attorney General Josh Stein and current Gov. Roy Cooper put forth a consent decree, stating that trans people would be granted access to restrooms corresponding with their genders in executive branch buildings. The settlement still awaits court action.
Cooper also signed an executive order extending protections to LGBTQ state employees last year.