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Backlash builds against N.C. law on transgender bathroom use

Protestors react to a new law that Gov. Pat McCrory (R-N.C.) signed that revoked an ordinance allowing transgender people to use the bathroom of their choice. (Video: Monica Akhtar/The Washington Post)
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A new North Carolina law that bars local governments from extending civil rights protections to gay and transgender people is provoking a growing backlash from businesses and others who say the law is discriminatory.

American Airlines, Wells Fargo and the National Basketball Association were among those to raise concerns about the law, which was introduced and passed Wednesday in a hastily called special session and signed by Gov. Pat McCrory (R) later that day.

In a statement, McCrory said legislative action was necessary to prevent local governments from enacting ordinances that overstep their authority in a way that might allow “a man to use a woman’s bathroom, shower or locker room.” He tweeted that he had signed the bill “to stop the breach of basic privacy and etiquette.”

In a statement Thursday night, the NBA hinted it might move its 2017 All-Star Game and weekend out of Charlotte.

“We are deeply concerned that this discriminatory law runs counter to our guiding principles of equality and mutual respect and do not yet know what impact it will have on our ability to successfully host” the events, the statement said.

North Carolina blocks local governments from enacting ordinances to allow transgender people to use public bathrooms that match their gender identities. (Video: Reuters)

LGBT (lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender) rights groups said the legislation, which many lawmakers had not seen before it was introduced Wednesday, is blatantly discriminatory and condemned it as the most extreme bill of its kind in the nation. With this measure, which was introduced to override a civil rights ordinance passed last month in Charlotte, the state’s largest city, North Carolina becomes the first state to ban students and others from using restrooms that match with their gender identity if it clashes with their birth certificates.

“Our community is angrier than I’ve seen them in a long time, and that’s easy to understand, given that our legislature and our governor have just used our people as a political wedge issue,” said Chris Srgo, executive director of Equality North Carolina, an LGBT rights group.

Thursday evening, about 200 protesters blocked a downtown Raleigh street in front of the state’s Executive Mansion where McCrory stays while in the state capital. But the governor was not there at the time of the protest, spokesman Josh Ellis told the Associated Press.

Online, activists nationally began a campaign to start a boycott of North Carolina and its businesses that did not speak out against the measure.

The NCAA, which is holding men’s basketball tournament games in the state in 2017 and 2018, issued a statement that it will “monitor current events, which include issues surrounding diversity, in all cities bidding on NCAA championships and events, as well as cities that have already been named as future host sites.”

At least some businesses, including large employers in the state, responded to the call, among them American Airlines. Charlotte is a major hub for the airline, which is the world’s largest, and American employs 14,000 people in the state.

“We believe no individual should be discriminated against because of gender identity or sexual orientation,” spokesman Ross Feinstein said in a statement. “Laws that allow such discrimination go against our fundamental belief of equality and are bad for the economies of the states in which they are enacted.”

Supporters of the new law, however, chastised the airline and other critics.

“Our General Assembly and Governor McCrory swiftly took care of this because it’s just common sense that men should not be in women’s bathrooms,” said Kami Mueller, spokeswoman for the KeepNCSafe coalition, which advocated for the state-level action.

The Charlotte ordinance that started the fracas expanded civil rights protections for individuals on the basis of marital status, sexual orientation, and gender identity or expression. Critics homed in on one aspect: that transgender people would be allowed to use their preferred restroom.

The ordinance provoked immediate outrage in the Republican-controlled legislature, where lawmakers said urgent action was needed to protect children and women and rein in local governments.

Groups such as Equality North Carolina and the American Civil Liberties Union say they plan to mount a legal challenge to the law, which went into effect immediately with the governor’s signature. Seventeen cities and towns around the state extended some type of protection to gay and transgender people, and it is unclear what becomes of those protections, Srgo said.

Opponents of broad non­discrimination protections have raised the bathroom issue powerfully in a number of similar fights across the country. In the fall, voters in Houston repealed a civil rights ordinance that critics had condemned as a “bathroom bill.”

Still, opponents of such measures have incurred setbacks in a number of states across the country. South Dakota’s Republican governor recently vetoed a bill that would have required students to use the bathroom that corresponded with their biological sex at birth. A similar bill in Tennessee died in committee this week, although some lawmakers are seeking to revive it.

Opposition from businesses and sports organizations has been instrumental in striking down state laws condemned as unfriendly to gays, such as an Indiana religious freedom law that grabbed national headlines last year. The outrage forced law­makers there to scale back the law. A similar fight is underway in Georgia.

National NBA writer Tim Bontemps contributed to this report.

South Dakota governor vetoes bill that would have restricted transgender students’ access to school restrooms