Duke University leaders condemned “in the strongest possible terms” the North Carolina law which requires people to use the bathroom that corresponds to the gender they were born with, and called for its repeal, adding to the heated national debate over gay and transgender rights.
The law was passed in response to a nondiscrimination ordinance in Charlotte, the state’s largest city. It included many provisions, but the most controversial one stripped away protections based on sexual orientation or gender identity, with anti-discrimination protections explicitly for biological sex. Supporters said it was needed to prevent local governments from enacting laws that could impede families’ safety and privacy, and that it was just common sense that men should not use women’s bathrooms. Opponents argued that it was a draconian backward step in civil rights advances for gay, lesbian and transgender people.
Similar bills have been battled elsewhere, making the issue a flash point from locker rooms to legislatures, and in North Carolina, there have been protests and economic boycotts.
North Carolina Gov. Pat McCrory (R) issued an executive order this month in response to the backlash, which he said would expand protections to sexual orientation and gender identity, but critics said it didn’t go far enough, and couldn’t overturn state law.
Last month, after the bill was signed into law, Duke officials announced that “activities on its campus will not be impacted by a new state law that prevents local governments from opening bathrooms for people to use based on their gender identity. Duke University values every individual. We are committed to equality, diversity and inclusion, which makes us a better and stronger community. For that reason, we deplore any effort to deny any person the protection of the law because of sexual orientation or gender identity.”
On Monday, they went further, saying the law had already caused economic and other impact across the state, including at universities.
Three officials — university President Richard Brodhead, Provost Sally Kornbluth and Chancellor for Health Affairs A. Eugene Washington — wrote, in part: “Scholars from states and municipalities that have imposed bans on government travel to North Carolina have been unable to travel to Duke to continue vital ongoing research partnerships or attend academic conferences. Prospective students, faculty and staff, as well as Duke alumni planning visits to campus, have voiced concerns about whether they will find a hospitable environment in North Carolina.”
As a private institution, the university is not subject to the law, a spokesman said, and Duke policies remain the same; “individuals may continue to use the restroom that corresponds to their gender expression or gender identity. In addition, we have a number of gender-neutral restrooms throughout the campus.
“Where we have seen the most direct impact has been in scholars from universities in states that have banned travel to North Carolina being unable to visit campus to participate in previously planned programs,” he said, and at least two national conferences are reconsidering plans to be held at Duke.
Here is the full statement from Duke leaders:
Duke University is committed to fostering an open, welcoming, inclusive community that respects each individual. We remain steadfast in our policies of nondiscrimination and inclusion for all of our students, faculty, staff, alumni, patients, fans and visitors.
We deplore in the strongest possible terms the new state law, HB2, that prevents municipalities from establishing laws that protect members of the LGBTQ+ community and others from discrimination and eliminates some economic advancement opportunities for underrepresented communities.
As a result of this law, North Carolina has already suffered damage to its national and international reputation as a leader in the fair treatment of its citizens. The economic and material impact is being felt across the state in many ways, including at universities. Scholars from states and municipalities that have imposed bans on government travel to North Carolina have been unable to travel to Duke to continue vital ongoing research partnerships or attend academic conferences. Prospective students, faculty and staff, as well as Duke alumni planning visits to campus, have voiced concerns about whether they will find a hospitable environment in North Carolina. These developments have the potential to limit the value that Duke and other colleges and universities contribute to the state, namely producing trained graduates and expanding the frontiers of knowledge.
We extend our concern and support to those who have been most directly affected — the members of Duke’s LGBTQ+ community. We encourage anyone needing assistance to turn to the many support services that Duke offers.
In spirit and in letter, this new law runs counter to the ideals of Duke University — and, we believe, to those of our great state. We urge a full repeal of HB2.
A. Eugene Washington
Chancellor for Health Affairs
President and CEO, Duke University Health System