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Ex-North Carolina governor who signed bathroom bill, LGBT advocates agree: The state didn’t really repeal the law

In the face of economic pressure, North Carolina lawmakers voted March 30 to repeal and replace the state's controversial bathroom law. Here's what you need to know. (Video: Monica Akhtar/The Washington Post)

Former North Carolina governor Pat McCrory, who signed the state’s so-called “bathroom bill” into law last year, found little common ground with LGBT rights groups during the protracted fight over the legislation. But both sides now agree about the compromise struck over the law this week: It was not a full repeal.

Lawmakers in North Carolina on Thursday scrapped the costly and controversial bathroom measure and replaced it with a law that, among other things, banned local governments from passing their own measures to protect LGBT people. While Gov. Roy Cooper (D) acknowledged the compromise was “not a perfect deal or my preferred solution,” he defended it as a positive step forward and signed it into law despite opposition from LGBT groups.

His Republican predecessor, though, said that the LGBT groups “lost the battle” and agreed with them that the measure did not eradicate the law known as House Bill 2, or H.B. 2. While that law was largely known for its provisions governing which bathrooms transgender people could use, it also included language reversing local ordinances that expanded protections for LGBT people.

North Carolina governor signs bill repealing and replacing transgender bathroom law amid criticism

The law prompted economic boycotts and spurred companies such as Deutsche Bank and PayPal to call off planned expansions into North Carolina, entertainers such as Bruce Springsteen to reschedule concerts and sports leagues to relocate games. The potential impact was sizable: According to an Associated Press analysis released before the new law was signed, H.B. 2 could have cost North Carolina at least $3.7 billion over a 12-year period.

After signing the bill, Cooper vowed that sports would return to North Carolina, but it remains unknown whether the bill he signed will indeed prompt businesses and organizations like the NCAA, which withdrew some events to protest the law, to return to the state.

The compromise bill was announced just hours before a deadline imposed by the NCAA, which had already removed some scheduled games from the state and was threatening to withhold years’ worth of other events if the law were not changed. The NCAA said in response to the compromise that it would review the new law and decide next week whether to return events to North Carolina. The Atlantic Coast Conference, which had moved games from the state, said Friday it would again consider North Carolina to host future events due to the new law.

Cooper said Thursday that “in a perfect world,” lawmakers would have fully repealed H.B. 2 and given LGBT residents full protections; he blamed the Republican-dominated legislature for not allowing such an agreement. In addition to a three-year ban on local nondiscrimination ordinances, the new law says only state lawmakers — and not local school boards or government agencies — can regulate “multiple occupancy bathrooms, showers or changing facilities.” House Speaker Tim Moore (R), in a statement after the bill passed the legislature, praised the agreement and said it “strengthens privacy protections statewide by providing a complete preemption of local governments regulating bathrooms, changing rooms and showers so that women and children are protected across the state.”

As North Carolina repeals its ‘bathroom bill,’ other states consider their own

The measure quickly drew intense criticism from the same groups that long sought to repeal H.B. 2. The Human Rights Campaign, in an email after the compromise was passed, said Cooper and lawmakers chose to “sell out” the LGBT community.

“After more than a year of inaction, Gov. Cooper and North Carolina lawmakers doubled-down on discrimination,” Chad Griffin, president of the HRC, said in a statement. “This new law does not repeal H.B. 2. Instead, it institutes a statewide prohibition on equality by banning non-discrimination protections across North Carolina and fuels the flames of anti-transgender hate. Gov. Cooper and each and every lawmaker who supported this bill has betrayed the LGBTQ community.”

Griffin signed a statement calling on the NCAA to oppose the new law, which was also assailed by other groups and prominent voices. Equality NC’s executive director said lawmakers “enshrined discrimination into North Carolina law,” while the American Civil Liberties Union of North Carolina said lawmakers “should be ashamed” of the measure. The Charlotte Observer’s editorial board said the new bill “does not do one thing to protect the LGBT community and locks in H.B. 2’s most basic and offensive provision,” while the New York Times editorial board weighed in by calling Cooper’s decision to sign the law “mystifying.”

Why North Carolina abruptly flip-flopped on its ‘bathroom bill’

McCrory had endorsed the compromise bill late Wednesday when the state’s top Republican lawmakers and Cooper announced that they had reached a deal. In an interview Thursday after the bill was passed, McCrory both agreed with and mocked the groups that had assailed him last year.

“The fact of the matter is, they did not get a full repeal of H.B. 2,” McCrory said during an interview Thursday with Tony Perkins, president of the conservative Family Research Council. The interview was first reported by the Charlotte Observer.

“They do not have the power at the local level to change the definition of gender, which is really what it comes down to, are we going to change the definition of gender or not?” McCrory said. “And that shouldn’t be a decision made by a mayor or a governor or the NCAA. That’s not their right to make that decision. This is going to end up going to the Supreme Court.”

McCrory had forcefully defended the bill after signing it, even as the legislation came to define North Carolina in the public eye and cost the state jobs and tourism revenue. He also continued to argue for the law after Cooper ousted him from office last year following a campaign in which the bathroom bill played a major role, a fact McCrory acknowledged during his interview with Perkins.

Cooper “got elected on this issue, many say, and raised millions of dollars on this issue,” McCrory said. But, noting that the groups opposing H.B. 2 were also opposing the new law signed by Cooper, he added: “The same protesters that protested me are now protesting the current governor.”

In response, a spokeswoman for Cooper rejected McCrory’s commentary on the issue and argued that the governor would continue to work toward strengthening protections for North Carolina’s LGBT communities.

“Pat McCrory doesn’t have any credibility on the issue as the person who signed the law that got North Carolina into this mess,” Sadie Weiner, a spokeswoman for Cooper, said in a statement. “Governor Cooper signed the new law that repealed H.B. 2 saying it is a step forward but not the only step. He supports statewide protections for LGBT North Carolinians and will keep working for them.”

Cooper’s office also provided a fact sheet noting that in addition to revoking the bathroom provisions, the new law allows local governments to set wages and nondiscrimination policies for employees as well as city contractors. The fact sheet also noted that the prohibition on local nondiscrimination ordinances is temporary and is set to expire in December 2020, a month after North Carolina’s next gubernatorial election.

Since leaving office, McCrory had said that he was unable to find work due to H.B. 2, saying in a podcast interview, “People are reluctant to hire me, because, ‘Oh my God, he’s a bigot’ — which is the last thing I am.” He told the Raleigh News & Observer earlier this month that he had been working as a consultant and taken advisory board positions.

Further reading:

NCAA will review North Carolina’s rollback of bathroom law, decide next week on future events

North Carolina lawmakers previously debated repealing the law, but that fell through

‘Not about bathrooms’: Critics decry North Carolina law’s lesser-known elements

‘People were tired’: How North Carolina’s last-minute deal to repeal the bathroom bill came together