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N.C. Amends HB 2 — So It Doesn’t Impact Straight People

N.C. Amends HB 2 — So It Doesn’t Impact Straight People

Pat McCrory

The state has also requested a half-million dollars from its disaster relief fund to cover the legal costs of defending the anti-LGBT law. 

In the final hours of this year's legislative session, North Carolina lawmakers Friday approved a slight modification to the state's controversial anti-LGBT law known as House Bill 2. But the change only affects the portion of the law that didn't apply to LGBT people, anyway.

The revision, passed overwhelmingly in both chambers of the state legislature, restores the right for North Carolina workers to sue for discrimination in state court, according to Raleigh newspaper The News & Oberserver. The change also shortens the statute of limitations for filing such claims from three years to one year. It now goes to the governor's desk, where he is expected to sign it.

But North Carolina's existing nondiscrimination laws don't offer protection for gender identity or sexual orientation, which means even with the change made Friday, it's still perfectly legal to fire, refuse to hire, or decline to promote LGBT employees in North Carolina simply because they're LGBT.

The only exception to this rule comes from an executive order Gov. Pat McCrory issued in April, during the initial backlash against HB 2, which states that government employees may not be discriminated against based on their sexual orientation or gender identity. The executive order was largely dismissed -- even by the state's attorney general, who is running against the governor in a tight re-election race -- as an effort to save face in the wake of substantial business, political, sports and entertainment-related backlash to the sweeping anti-LGBT law.

(RELATED: A Brief History of North Carolina Homophobia)

Introduced and signed into law in less than 12 hours during a special legislative session on March 23, HB 2 prevents local governments from enacting or enforcing LGBT-inclusive employment nondiscrimination ordinances (affecting private businesses or contractors) and bars transgender people from using the restrooms, locker rooms, and other sex-segregated facilities that correspond with their gender identity, if these facilities are located in government buildings, including public elementary and secondary schools and state colleges and universities. It also bars localities from setting a minimum wage higher than the state's, and until Friday's change, revoked the right for employees to sue for discrimination in state court.

Gov. McCrory had long called on lawmakers to amend the section of the law gutting due process for North Carolina workers, and legislators voted overwhelmingly in favor of restoring that particular right. The change passed in the state Senate by a vote of 26-14, and in the state House of Representatives by 85-15. Both chambers are controlled by Republicans.

"As we said from the beginning, there was never an intent to limit the right of anybody to seek redress in state court," House Speaker Tim Moore, an early and consistent supporter of HB 2, told the News & Observer Friday after the vote passed.

Chris Sgro, the executive director of statewide LGBT group Equality NC and the only out member of the state legislature (appointed after the passage of HB 2 to fill a vacancy), offered a tepid response to the modest change lawmakers approved on Friday.

"This was just one of the incredible mistakes made in the passage of House Bill 2," Sgro, a Greensboro Democrat, said on the House floor Friday, according to local news station WRAL. "I am woefully embarrassed that this is the result of two-and-a-half months of conversation about the most disastrous piece of legislation in the state's history."

Gov. McCrory, for his part, lauded Friday's efforts, issuing a statement that celebrated the fact that the legislature's "action reinstates all statewide non-discrimination protections that were previously in place," but not mentioning the fact that HB 2 was specifically crafted to repeal a trans-inclusive nondiscrimination ordinance passed by the Charlotte City Council in February. Friday's legislative adjustment does not impact the status of those LGBT-inclusive local protections, which were unilaterally struck down when McCrory signed HB 2 into law.

As lawmakers adjourned for the year close to midnight Friday, a second proposed change to HB 2 was effectively killed. The draft bill, roundly rejected by LGBT advocates and even the NBA, would have created a sort of state "registry" of transgender people who had undergone specific gender-affirming surgery, providing these individuals with a "certificate of sex reassignment" that would presumably grant them access to the restrooms, locker rooms, and other sex-segregated spaces that matched their gender identity.

Friday night's gavel marked the last time lawmakers will convene until January -- after a general election in November where every seat in the state capitol, including the governor's, is up for grabs.

Also on Friday, House Republicans approved a bill that would siphon $500,000 from the state's emergency disaster relief fund to bankroll several federal lawsuits that have been filed regarding HB 2. Attorney General Roy Cooper -- the Democratic candidate for governor who is campaigning to unseat McCrory -- has declined to defend HB 2 in any of the pending litigation, calling the legislation a "national embarassment."

In addition to a lawsuit filed by LGBT advocacy groups, the state itself is also facing a federal civil rights lawsuit filed by the Department of Justice, which contends the anti-LGBT law violates existing nondiscrimination protections enshrined in federal law. At the same time, Gov. McCrory has filed a lawsuit against the Obama Administration, inaccurately claiming that federal protections for transgender Americans -- especially students -- do not exist.

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