More than a year after North Carolina became the first state in the nation to enact legislation preventing transgender people from using public bathrooms and locker rooms that don't correspond with the gender on their birth certificate, the law could be repealed as soon as Thursday.
Thursday is also the day the NCAA has given North Carolina as a deadline to get rid of the law or lose six years' worth of tournaments.
The Fix has been checking in regularly with GOP state Rep. Chuck McGrady (here and here), who has been trying for months to repeal the law, known as House Bill 2, before it's too late. We spoke by phone Thursday morning as the state Senate began debating the repeal measure. Our conversation has been lightly edited for length and clarity.
Past repeal efforts have gone up in flames. Does this one have the votes to pass?
My guess is that it will pass, but it will be narrow. When you try to cobble together a majority of votes from the entire body among Republicans and Democrats, that's where you find yourself.
Is it fair to say that on the right, there are rural lawmakers who don't see a reason to get rid of the bathroom restriction — even if the state loses NCAA business? On the left, lawmakers were pressured by LGBT and civil rights groups to put in place protections for transgender people?
That's a fair characterization. This is not something where we're all going to hold hands and sing kumbaya. There are still some sharp differences of opinion and the issues are very emotional.
We're talking about values, we're talking about religion, it's just a whole range of deeply held views. But in the end, I think there's a large group of people that would like to put House Bill 2 behind us, and as long as we're not going to have other municipalities do what Charlotte did and jump in and suddenly decide they're going to play this out in bathrooms and changing rooms and locker rooms, which the bill makes sure doesn't happen, we're willing to go down that road.
So, hopefully, we put House Bill 2 behind us, we begin to heal.
But this bill only prevents local governments from enacting protections for transgender people for the next three years. In 2021, Charlotte can do it all over again, correct?
Future legislatures can always change the law. Any law that passes is only good for one session because the next legislature could come back and decide it wants to do the opposite and could change it.
This bill puts in place a cooling-off period, to let some of the frayed emotions get behind us, and perhaps have interest groups — on the right and the left — stop the over-the-top rhetoric, in my opinion. So it buys some time.
How much of a factor is the NCAA deadline in reaching a repeal deal?
I think it's a factor. But there are a lot of things coming together.
Beyond the NCAA, there were large numbers of business groups that certainly weighed in. But from my constituents, it was: As long as you take care of the bathroom piece — meaning, get government out of that — let's not have this issue that is just consuming all the oxygen.
So people were tired of fighting that battle. They realized the Charlotte ordinance is no more, we can make sure other cities don't do the same thing, and sort of get out of the bathroom business. We didn't seem to have a bathroom problem before Charlotte decided it wanted to do what it did, and this hopefully gets us back to a time when we didn't have a bathroom problem.
Are you worried that North Carolina's reputation has been damaged beyond what repealing this law can fix?
Can you explain why you don't think that?
I think people focus on these issues real intensely and then when they get resolved, people move on to other things. What happened in North Carolina could have happened somewhere else. It just so happened a group of advocates managed to get Charlotte to do what it did, and legislators reacted the way they did, and we found ourselves on the tip of the spear on a social issue that is still being worked out by Americans.
Some of my colleagues don't agree with this, but I think we overreacted and we're now correcting the situation — if, in fact, we get the votes to do that.