Lawsuit: New North Carolina Bathroom Law Still Discriminates

Joaquin Carcano and Madeline Goss
Plaintiffs Joaquin Carcano and Madeline Goss

The American Civil Liberties Union and Lambda Legal have amended their lawsuit against North Carolina, saying the legislation that replaced the anti-LGBT House Bill 2 still puts the state’s LGBT residents at risk.

The original complaint was filed on behalf of several North Carolinians. The amended one, filed today in U.S. District Court, adds two plaintiffs and says the HB 2 replacement, House Bill 142, is unclear about transgender residents’ access to public restrooms and discriminates against LGBT people in other ways as well.

HB 2, passed last year in response to the city of Charlotte’s LGBT-inclusive public accommodations ordinance, barred trans people from using the restrooms and other single-sex facilities matching their gender identity, when those facilities are located in government buildings. It also prevented cities and counties from enacting or enforcing LGBT-inclusive antidiscrimination ordinances.

HB 142, approved by legislators in December and then signed into law by the state’s new governor, Roy Cooper, leaves the matter of restroom access solely in the hands of the state legislature. While Cooper has said this means there is no state law “barring the use of multiple occupancy bathroom facilities in accordance with gender identity,” other public officials have said the language means that transgender people can still be criminally prosecuted for doing so, according to the amended suit.

“The resulting uncertainty about whether they could be arrested or suffer other adverse consequences means that transgender individuals cannot safely use single-sex, multiple-user restrooms in government-controlled buildings in North Carolina,” the complaint states.

“I don’t have the option to use the men’s restroom, and I don’t have the luxury to not think about my safety every time I use the women’s restroom,” said Madeline Goss, 41, a transgender woman from Raleigh who is one of the new plaintiffs, in an ACLU-Lambda press release. “I know all too well what can happen to a transgender person in the restroom because a stranger won’t just let you be. It’s even scarier now that there is so much confusion about which restrooms I can use and I worry that I am not safe to use any restroom in North Carolina because of this discrimination.” 

HB 142 also states that cities and counties cannot enact new antidiscrimination ordinances until December 1, 2020, although they can enforce existing ones. This provision shows an “intent to burden and stigmatize LGBT individuals,” according to the suit. On the whole, the complaint says, HB 142 2 “violates fundamental guarantees of equal protection and due process in the U.S. Constitution and statutory prohibitions on discrimination based on sex under Title IX and Title VI.”

“Under HB 142, North Carolina is sending a message to LGBT people like me that we are not welcome here, that we are not deserving of protection from discrimination, and that we are not equally valued members of our communities,” said Quinton Harper, 32, a bisexual cisgender black man who lives in Carrboro and is the other new plaintiff. “North Carolina should be taking steps to protect and support these members of our community, but HB 142 does the opposite: It puts people like me at greater risk of harm.”

The other plaintiffs in the case are Joaquín Carcaño, 28, a University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill employee from Durham; Payton McGarry, 20, a UNC-Greensboro student who was born and raised in Wilson; Hunter Schafer, 18, a transgender woman who recently graduated from UNC School of the Arts high school in Winston-Salem; and Angela Gilmore, 54, a North Carolina Central University law professor. Also named plaintiff in the lawsuit is the ACLU of North Carolina and its members.  The suit was filed last year as Carcaño v. McCrory, naming the state’s then-governor, Pat McCrory, as lead defendant. It is now Carcaño v. Cooper, naming Cooper along with other state officials.

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