Guillaume Paumier / Flickr (CC by 2.0) | Remix by Max Fleishman

North Carolina sued in federal court over anti-LGBT law

The lawsuit accuses the state of violating the Constitution's equal protection amendment.

Feb 29, 2020, 9:36 am*

Tech

Mary Emily O'Hara 

Mary Emily O'Hara

A coalition of civil-rights groups and North Carolina residents filed a federal lawsuit against Gov. Pat McCrory on Monday challenging a new law that restricts local protections against discrimination for gay and transgender people.

“Today, the ACLU, Lambda Legal, and Equality North Carolina are fighting in court for the trans folks who have been targeted relentlessly in North Carolina and for the entire LGBT community who is harmed by this regressive and discriminatory law,” wrote ACLU staff attorney Chase Strangio in a Monday blog post.

The lawsuit, filed in the U.S. District Court for the Middle District of North Carolina, also names state attorney general Roy Cooper and the University of North Carolina. One of the plaintiffs, Joaquín Carcaño, is a 27-year-old transgender employee at the university, while the second plaintiff, Payton Grey McGarry, is a 20-year-old student there. The third plaintiff, Angela Gilmore, is a 52-year-old lesbian who works at North Carolina Central University. 

North Carolina’s House Bill 2 was voted into law on March 23 in a special session that took place during a Senate break. While a majority of the state’s Republican lawmakers voted in favor of the bill, all of the Senate Democrats walked off the floor in protest. 

“This is about my job, my community, and my ability to get safely through my day and be productive like everyone else in North Carolina.”

H.B. 2 was fast-tracked in response to a local anti-discrimination ordinance in the city of Charlotte that included language emphasizing the right of transgender people to use facilities in accordance with their gender identity. In response, state lawmakers drafted and passed a law that bans all cities and towns in North Carolina from enacting their own local anti-discrimination bills and mandates that people in the state use facilities that match their gender at birth. The law also blocks municipalities from raising the minimum wage or increasing protections for workers, a move that has incensed local unions and the Democratic National Committee.

“By singling out LGBT people for disfavored treatment and explicitly writing discrimination against transgender people into state law,” reads the lawsuit, “H.B. 2 violates the most basic guarantees of equal treatment and the U.S. Constitution.”

Monday’s lawsuit delves deeply into the details of gender transition. Carcaño’s medical diagnoses of gender dysphoria is described alongside the process of his gender reassignment surgery and the effects of hormone therapy that result in a distinctly masculine appearance. The lawsuit states that Carcaño would not feasibly be able to use a women’s restroom without incident, and because the building in which he works only offers men’s and women’s  multiple-occupancy bathrooms, he would have to leave the building and search the campus for a single-occupancy facility each time. The lawsuit also details Carcaño’s visits to public offices, such as the Department of Motor Vehicles, and rest areas alongside highways, to illustrate the overall impact of the new law.

“H.B. 2 is hurtful and demeaning. I just want to go to work and live my life. This law puts me in the terrible position of either going into the women’s room where I clearly don’t belong or breaking the law,” said Carcaño in a statement released by Lambda Legal on Monday morning. “But this is about more than restrooms, this is about my job, my community, and my ability to get safely through my day and be productive like everyone else in North Carolina.”

Other passages of the lawsuit highlight H.B. 2’s ban on local anti-discrimination ordinances. Since the passage of H.B. 2 eradicated existing local protections for LGBT people, there are now zero laws in North Carolina that offer equal rights and protections based on sexual orientation or gender identity. Critics say the elimination of these laws opens the door for businesses, such as hotels and restaurants, to turn away gay couples or people who appear to be non-gender normative. Some believe it could enable store owners to hang signs in their windows that read “No gays allowed.”

From the lawsuit:

The passage of H.B. 2 has caused Ms. Gilmore and her wife distress, in that it has significantly undone their sense of belonging and value in the state, which is why they moved to North Carolina. Ms. Gilmore and her wife experience H.B. 2 as sending a clear message to them as lesbians that they are not welcome in North Carolina. Ms. Gilmore and her wife have visited the city of Charlotte and they plan to do so in the future. As two women traveling together with the same first name, they are often asked about the nature of their relationship, and they therefore regularly reveal themselves to be a lesbian couple. Under the Ordinance, Ms. Gilmore and her wife would have been protected from sexual orientation discrimination in public accommodations in the city of Charlotte. With the passage of H.B. 2, Ms. Gilmore worries that she and her wife will now be exposed to discrimination based on their sexual orientation. 

The lawsuit claims H.B. 2 violates the equal protection clause of the Fourteenth Amendment of the Constitution, which says no state shall “deny to any person within its jurisdiction the equal protection of the laws.” It also alleges a violation of the right to privacy and a violation of Title IX—the federal law that mandates inclusion on the basis of sex in education. According to a 2013 announcement, Title IX’s definition of “sex” includes sexual orientation and gender identity. In a press release issued the day after H.B. 2’s passage, the American Civil Liberties Union said that North Carolina had put $4.5 billion in Title IX funding at risk.

Protests flared online and in North Carolina streets in the days after the law’s passage. On Thursday, five people who chained themselves together outside the governor’s mansion in Raleigh were arrested as a crowd of thousands chanted, danced, and held signs criticizing H.B. 2. Businesses and organizations also pushed back in protest: The NBA threatened to pull upcoming events, Hollywood powerhouse Rob Reiner announced plans to pull all future productions from the state, and corporations like Google, Dow, and American Airlines issued statements condemning the discriminatory law.

Photo via Guillaume Paumier/Flickr (CC BY 2.0) | Remix by Max Fleishman

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*First Published: Mar 28, 2016, 12:08 pm