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North Carolina governor tweaks anti-LGBT law but leaves controversial parts intact

Critics are calling Gov. McCrory's executive order 'symbolic.'


Mary Emily O'Hara


Posted on Apr 12, 2016   Updated on May 26, 2021, 11:05 pm CDT

It’s always important to read the fine print.

In a video statement and transcript posted to Medium on Tuesday, North Carolina Gov. Pat McCrory announced an executive order that he insinuated reverses parts of the state’s highly controversial anti-LGBT law known as HB2. But critics quickly piled on, calling the order a “symbolic” act that did little to change the law.

“Simply put, I have listened to the people of North Carolina, and the people of North Carolina are entitled to both privacy and equality,” said McCrory in the video. “We can and we must achieve both of these goals.”

North Carolina House Bill 2 (HB2) sparked a national uproar after McCrory signed it into law in late March. The bill banned all local laws protecting equality rights for people based on sexual orientation or gender identity—a prohibition critics said was a direct response to a local ordinance passed in Charlotte allowing transgender people to use facilities in accordance with their gender identity. 

The Charlotte law was to take effect on April 1, and the Republican-controlled legislature created a special session to quickly pass HB2 despite all Democratic members in the Senate walking off the floor in protest.

Importantly, McCrory’s executive order does not reverse the state’s legal mandate on restroom and locker room access. Transgender people will still be mandated under state law to use public facilities that correspond with their birth gender. 

In the video, McCrory said the order “affirmed the private sector and local government’s right to establish its own non-discrimination employment policies.” That seemed like a change to HB2’s ban on local non-discrimination ordinances. But the order only permits local policies on non-discrimination related to housing, real-estate transactions, and state employees.

The governor boasted in his statement that he was expanding the state equal employment opportunity policy to include sexual orientation and gender identity. The actual language in the order suggests that the policy refers only to state employees.

In short, the new executive order does little to offer protections to most LGBT North Carolinians, who may still be asked to leave a public accommodation or business, and be fired from their non-state jobs, if they are lesbian, gay, bisexual, or transgender.

Most contentiously, the portions offering non-discrimination protections to state employees are moot for transgender employees, as they would still be forced to use opposite-gender bathrooms and locker rooms under the law.

Online, civil rights groups and activists lambasted McCrory’s order.

ACLU of North Carolina Acting Executive Director Sarah Preston called the order an “effort to divide the LGBT community.”

“Gov. McCrory’s actions today are a poor effort to save face after his sweeping attacks on the LGBT community,” said Preston in a statement. “And they fall far short of correcting the damage done when he signed into law the harmful House Bill 2, which stigmatizes and mandates discrimination against gay and transgender people.”

Preston added that even with the executive order in place, “LGBT individuals still lack legal protections from discrimination, and transgender people are still explicitly targeted by being forced to use the wrong restroom.”

McCrory stated that he also planned to reverse another contentious part of the new law that banned discrimination lawsuits.

“I will immediately seek legislation in the upcoming short session to reinstate the right to sue for discrimination in North Carolina state courts,” said McCrory in the video.

Amid the resulting protests over HB2, which began online with state residents declaring #WeAreNotThis, businesses and other interests began pulling out of the state. Multiple cities across the nation passed travel bans that would prevent state employees from visiting North Carolina on business. PayPal cancelled plans for an upcoming North Carolina expansion, Hollywood heavyweight Rob Reiner called for a filming boycott, and even a porn site blocked the entire state from accessing its streaming content.

The intense pressure appears to have worked, at least in part. McCrory said on Tuesday that his executive order was created in response to the “feedback” that he received in the wake of HB2’s passage.

“You know, after listening to people’s feedback for the past several weeks on this issue, I have come to the conclusion that there is a great deal of misinformation, misinterpretation, confusion, a lot of passion and, frankly, selective outrage and hypocrisy, especially against the great state of North Carolina,” McCrory said in his video statement.

The governor seemed to be attempting to strike a balance that would keep the bathroom and locker room provisions in place while offering a limited measure of equality in other aspects.

“Now I know these actions will not totally satisfy everyone, but the vast majority of our citizens want common sense solutions to complex issues,” McCrory said. “This is the North Carolina way.”

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*First Published: Apr 12, 2016, 5:18 pm CDT