Gender-neutral facilities campaign may be on the ropes

H.B. 2, Supreme Court, Trump administration are all a part of the national battle over bathrooms

Jonathan Drake - Reuters—0
File Photo: A bathroom sign welcomes both genders at the Cacao Cinnamon coffee shop in Durham

RALEIGH — When voters put a Republican in the White House it may have had a cooling effect on the march toward making gender identity protected under Title IX rules, and N.C. is right in the center of that fight. The state’s controversial House Bill 2 is a part of a many-headed issue being debated in several states and nationally in the executive, legislative and judicial branches.New Gov. Roy Cooper offered up what he says is a “compromise” to repeal H.B. 2 this week. The bill was not well-received by Republicans in the state legislature who said it was a retread of Democrats’ earlier ultimatums and doesn’t prevent men from entering women’s facilities.Meanwhile, the U.S. Department of Justice — now led by President Donald Trump’s Attorney General Jeff Sessions — opted to step away from defending former President Barack Obama’s executive order that asserted a student’s gender identity would be considered that student’s sex in situations such as bathroom usage in public schools. The courts blocked the order and now Sessions’ DOJ says they won’t defend it.Texas has also now joined the fray, with its own “bathroom bill,” Senate Bill 6, drawing criticism from celebrities and even the NFL, who hinted the Super Bowl — just played in Houston earlier this month — might not return to the state if the law was passed.The issue is further complicated by the U.S. Supreme Court case regarding Gavin Grimm, a 17-year-old transgender student who sued his school board in Virginia for the right to use the boys’ bathroom. Grimm was born a female but identifies as male.The high court is set to hear the case March 28, just eight days after confirmation hearings will begin for Judge Neil Gorsuch, President Donald Trump’s nominee to fill the vacant seat on the Supreme Court.Gorsuch’s hearings and a Senate confirmation vote could carry in to April, meaning an eight-judge court would decide on the Grimm case. A 4-4 deadlock would affirm the lower court ruling in favor Grimm’s wish to use the boys’ bathroom at his public school.It’s also possible Gorsuch could be confirmed prior to arguments in the Grimm case, giving the court a more conservative tilt and perhaps leading to a different ruling. How the Supreme Court rules should set the tone for laws and transgender rights across the nation, including North Carolina.”Protecting North Carolinians’ rights is the Attorney General’s top priority. That includes civil rights,” Laura Brewer, spokeswoman for new Attorney General Josh Stein, said in an email when asked how any ruling could impact how the N.C. Department of Justice approaches the issue.Cooper’s office did not respond to an email asking how the new governor — who refused to defend H.B. 2 as attorney general last year — would address transgender rights given Sessions’ recent decision.Texas Gov. Greg Abbott, much like former North Carolina Gov. Pat McCrory, has been combative toward corporate critics of his state’s Senate Bill 6. Much like N.C.’s back and forth with the both the NBA and NCAA regarding H.B. 2, Abbott and the NFL have sparred about Texas’ proposed law.”We don’t care what the NFL thinks and certainly what their political policies are because they are not a political arm of the state of Texas or the United States of America,” Abbott said. “They need to learn their place in the United States, which is to govern football, not politics.”As governor, McCrory — a Republican like Abbott — called decisions by the NBA to pull the All-Star Game from Charlotte last year and the NCAA to take seven championships from the state “selective hypocrisy.”