At least five federal agencies are weighing whether to withhold funds from North Carolina in response to a recently enacted state law that blocks protections for gay, lesbians and bisexuals, and prohibits transgender individuals from using bathrooms that are not the same as the gender they were assigned at birth.
The ongoing reviews at the Education, Transportation, Labor, Housing and Urban Development, and Health and Human Services departments are not yet complete, and it is unclear how much federal money might be involved. But the Obama administration’s decision to scrutinize what White House press secretary Josh Earnest described as “both policy and legal questions that are raised by the passage of this law” suggests that the measure signed by Gov. Pat McCrory (R) last month could have major implications for his state.
Earnest said that “individual agencies are undertaking” the review, and the White House had not issued specific guidance on how to proceed. But he emphasized that President Obama said that “ensuring that individual Americans are not discriminated against because of who they love is something that the president feels strongly about,” and he was not surprised that North Carolina officials “are feeling some pressure” on the issue.
“I can just say that, more generally, this administration is committed to defending and even promoting the equal rights of all Americans, including LGBT Americans,” he added.
Several corporate leaders, as well as senior administration officials and civil rights activists, have criticized the law, which was passed in response to a Charlotte ordinance that would have allowed transgender people to use restrooms that corresponded with their chosen gender identity. The enacted law went further, by establishing a state definition for protected citizens that excludes lesbians, gays and bisexuals.
“It's shameful the Obama administration would consider using North Carolina children and families as pawns on a political chessboard in an attempt advance their radical political agenda to eliminate sex-specific bathrooms and locker rooms in schools," said Ricky Diaz, a spokesman for McCrory’s reelection campaign.
Speaking in Charlotte last week, Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx, the city’s former mayor, said the measure “isn’t who we are,” and added that his department was reviewing whether it would prompt a loss in agency funds.
The Transportation Department sends roughly $1 billion to North Carolina a year, while the Education Department provides more than four times that amount.
David Stacy, government affairs director for the Human Rights Campaign, noted that a host of federal laws — from Title IX in the Education Amendments of 1972 to the Affordable Care Act and Violence Against Women Act — have anti-discrimination language that suggests North Carolina could stand to lose funding on a range of fronts.
“This North Carolina law is a sweeping law that really undercuts significant federal protections, and the federal government has a responsibility to examine what levers they have, and what authority they have, to ensure that transgender residents in North Carolina have the federal protections they’re entitled to,” he said.