Public institutions in North Carolina are grappling with a recently passed law that requires people to use public restrooms and locker rooms that match the gender on their birth certificate. This so-called “bathroom law” is cited as being anti-LGBTQ, and its passage on March 23 is contributing to growing political divisions in the state.
In response to the legislation, University of North Carolina (UNC) system president Margaret Spellings released a memo last week clarifying how the system’s 16 universities will be affected and affirming that all campuses will comply with the law.
“The Act amends the state’s public policy statement regarding nondiscrimination and provides that it supersedes nondiscrimination regulations imposed upon employers and public accommodations by political subdivisions of the state, including local governments.” Spellings said in the memo. “The Act does not limit the ability of local governments and universities to adopt policies with respect to their own employees. The act requires multiple occupancy bathrooms and changing facilities in government buildings to be designated for and only used by persons based on biological sex.”
She went on to say that the law does not require universities to amend their nondiscrimination policies or enforce the law, and she suggested how campuses should proceed.
“[UNC campuses should] designate and label multiple-occupancy bathrooms and changing facilities for single-sex use with signage, provide notice of the Act to campus constituencies as appropriate, [and] consider assembling and making information available about the locations of designated single-occupancy bathrooms and changing facilities on campus,” the memo reads.
Spellings also recommended that each campus designate single-occupancy facilities as gender-neutral.
Some members of the LGBTQ community have taken issue with the memo, saying Spellings did not show strong enough support of them in response to North Carolina’s discriminatory law.
“[Spellings] has historically been no ally to the LGBTQ community,” UNC graduate student Rémy Jodrey told USA Today. “But still, the statement seems cold and callous. … [It] demonstrated absolutely no regard for the safety and well-being of trans and queer students. I know politics is sticky and you have to tow the party line sometimes, but it’s still very angering and hurtful.”
At the time of her presidential appointment to the UNC system last fall, Spellings was asked about a letter she sent to the president of PBS in 2005, at which time she was U.S. Secretary of Education. She had asked the PBS president to pull a television show depicting a lesbian couple. When asked about her letter, she said at a press conference, “I have no comments about those lifestyles.” Many took issue with her word choice.
Since the bill’s passage, boycotts and cancellations have been widespread across the state. Bruce Springsteen cancelled a concert in Greensboro; PayPal cancelled plans to launch a $3.6 million global operations center in the state; and the governors of New York, Vermont, and Minnesota banned non-essential travel to North Carolina. Further, over the weekend, North Carolina NAACP President Rev. Dr. William Barber II announced that the Moral Mondays movement of liberal activists would stage mass sit-ins at the North Carolina General Assembly if the bill is not repealed by the start of the April 25 legislative session.
The law could potentially be revised once lawmakers are back in session, but legislators on either side of the issue have expressed an all-or-nothing attitude on the future of the bill.
Updated April 12 at 4:00 p.m.: North Carolina Gov. Pat McCrory on Tuesday issued an executive order that “seeks legislation to reinstate the right to sue in state court for discrimination” and “expands the state’s employment policy for state employees to cover sexual orientation and gender identity.” The order does not, however, overturn the gender-specific policies put in place by House Bill 2, the so-called “bathroom law.”