North Carolina Fails to Repeal Bathroom Bill

After calling a special session with the promise to repeal the controversial HB2, Republicans backpedaled and left the law in place.

Opponents of North Carolina's HB2 law limiting bathroom access for transgender people protest in the gallery above the state's House of Representatives chamber as the legislature considers repealing the controversial law in Raleigh, North Carolina, on December 21, 2016. / REUTERS

North Carolina Republicans backed out of what was supposed to be a clean repeal of House Bill 2, known as HB2, or the "bathroom bill."

HB2 prevents cities and localities from putting in place anti-discrimination policies regarding sexual orientation and gender identity. It also forces transgender people to use the public bathroom that matches the gender listed on their birth certificate, even if this does not align with their gender identity.

HB2 has resulted in significant economic losses for the state of North Carolina. As of November, the total loss is estimated to be $630 million.

The bill came largely in response to an ordinance passed in Charlotte that protected LGBT people from discrimination. On Monday, Charlotte voted unanimously to rescind its anti-discrimination ordinance — under the impression that the state would in turn repeal HB2 during a special session called by outgoing Republican Gov. Pat McCrory on Wednesday. Attorney General and Governor-elect Roy Cooper (D) negotiated the agreement with Charlotte.

However, the bill put forth by Sen. Phil Berger (R) to repeal HB2 called for a "Six-Month Cooling-Off Period," during which time local governments would not be able to put in place — or amend existing — ordinances regarding employment or public accommodations such as bathrooms and changing facilities.

Berger called his bill "something that helps us get to a reset" and a chance to find a "long range solution."

But Democrats questioned whether the six-month period would be continually extended, in essence leaving HB2 in effect for even longer.

In a statement, Berger blasted Cooper and other Democrats for the bill being killed Wednesday night.

However, according to Cooper, Republicans went back on their word and ultimately broke the state's trust.

"The Republican legislative leaders have broken their word to me, and they have broken their trust with the people of North Carolina," he said. "This was our best chance. It cannot be our last chance."

LGBT rights groups expressed disappointment over Wednesday's decision.

"Today, the public trust has been betrayed once again. Lawmakers sent a clear message: North Carolina remains closed for business," said Chad Griffin, president of the Human Rights Campaign (HRC).

"Legislative leaders in North Carolina have proven their dishonesty time and time again, and they proved it again today," Mara Keisling, president of the National Center for Transgender Equality, said in a statement. "They broke their promise to repeal this harmful bill, and then tried to ram through a halfway measure instead — and failed to do that as well."

In a statement, the city of Charlotte said it "acted in good faith" in doing its part to make sure HB2 was repealed.

"While we are disappointed with this unfortunate outcome, our commitment to maintaining and protecting diverse and inclusive communities remains unchanged," the statement read.

Charlotte had received criticism from agreeing to the proposed compromise in the first place. But Mayor Jennifer Roberts (D) said the decision "should in no way be viewed as a compromise of our principles or commitment to non-discrimination."

James Esseks, director of the American Civil Liberties Union's (ACLU) LGBT and HIV Project, said that the city "made a calculated guess" in trusting the Republicans.

The ACLU filed a lawsuit earlier this year challenging HB2.

"So this law, I think, is going to go away one way or another," Esseks said. "It would be much better if the legislature simply got rid of it now so people don't have to wait any longer for justice."

HB2 has proven to be bad for business and has resulted in the loss of sporting events, concerts and business deals.

More than 100 leading CEOs and business leaders, including several of the DiversityInc 2016 Top 50 Companies for Diversity, such as Accenture (No. 15), Kellogg Company (No. 30), TD Bank (No. 39) and Hilton Worldwide (No. 42), previously sent a letter to Gov. Pat McCrory and the North Carolina General Assembly demanding the law be repealed.

IBM (No. 20), one of the state's largest employers, publicly criticized the law and said it would "continue to follow its global non-discrimination policies in the workplace," adding that "an inclusive and welcoming environment is the best way to attract talented individuals to our company."

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