Federal Judge Affirms North Carolina Transgender Restroom Rights

July 24, 2019 by Dan McCue

A federal judge approved a legal settlement Tuesday affirming transgender people’s right to use restrooms matching their gender identity in many North Carolina public buildings.

The consent decree between the state’s Democratic governor, Roy Cooper, and transgender plaintiffs covers a wide range of state-owned buildings.

In return, the plaintiffs agreed to drop pending legal action against the governor and other defendants.

U.S. District Judge Thomas Schroader’s approval of the agreement ends a bruising three-year legal battle over a 2016 law, H.B.2, that required transgender people to use restrooms matching their birth certificates in state government buildings and other publicly owned structures including state universities.

That requirement was later rescinded, but a replacement law effectively put new antidiscrimination ordinances on hold through 2020.

The transgender North Carolinians who filed the original suit later amended it to take on the replacement law as well, saying it only created uncertainty over what bathrooms they could use and essentially voided local ordinances intended to protect LGBTQ people from discrimination.

The agreement approved Tuesday states that North Carolina officials have no authority to “prevent transgender people from lawfully using public facilities in accordance with their gender identity.”

The agreement further says executive branch officials, such as the current and future governors, as well their employees at state agencies, are forbidden from using the current law “to bar, prohibit, block, deter, or impede any transgender individuals from using public facilities … in accordance with the transgender individual’s gender identity.”

Governor Cooper and the plaintiffs announced they’d reached a proposed settlement in late 2017. But state Republicans, including House Speaker Tim Moore and Senate leader Phil Berger, who intervened in the case as defendants, urged Judge Schroader to reject the consent decree.

Among other things, they argued the proposed settlement could be interpreted as an overreach of the judiciary because it “purports to bind North Carolina State officers and agencies, in perpetuity, to a temporary political settlement.”

Schroeder responded in Tuesday’s order, saying nothing in the agreement limits the legislature’s ability to amend the replacement law or pass any other law.

Attorneys for the Republican lawmakers said Tuesday they are reviewing their options.

Joaquin Carcaño, the lead plaintiff in the case, said Tuesday that after “so many years of managing the anxiety of H.B.2 and fighting so hard, I am relieved that we finally have a court order to protect transgender people from being punished under these laws.”

“This is a tremendous victory but not a complete one,” Carcaño continued. “While I am glad that Governor Cooper agreed to this settlement, it remains devastating to know that local protections for LGBTQ people are still banned under state law while so many members of our community continue to face violence, harassment, and discrimination simply because of who we are. The fight for full justice will continue.”

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