JUDY WOODRUFF: We turn now to North Carolina, where a new measure restricting protections for gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender people is being called the toughest law of its kind in the nation.
We begin our story with Wednesday’s dramatic emergency session of state lawmakers.
John Yang reports.
JOHN YANG: Senate Democrats walked out in protest, leaving their empty chairs.
MAN: Thirty-two having voted in the affirmative and zero in the negative, House Bill 2 passes.
JOHN YANG: The vote repealed a new ordinance in Charlotte, North Carolina, that expanded protections for LGBTQ people, including letting transgender people choose which bathroom to use. The new state law goes even further, barring any city from passing anti-discrimination laws in the future.
Lawmakers heard testimony on both sides.
SARAH PRESTON, ACLU of North Carolina: Half of the transgender individuals surveyed in North Carolina recently reported being harassed in public accommodations.
CHLOE JEFFERSON, Student: What about my rights to privacy and wishes not to be exposed to young males changing and showering beside me?
JOHN YANG: Late Wednesday night, Republican Governor Pat McCrory signed it into law, saying in a statement that Charlotte violated “the basic expectation of privacy in the most personal of settings, a restroom or locker room.”
He accused the leaders of the state’s largest city of government overreach and intrusion.
Charlotte Mayor Jennifer Roberts, a Democrat, fired back.
MAYOR JENNIFER ROBERTS (D), Charlotte, NC: This legislation is literally the most anti-LGBT legislation in the country. And it does this not just in Charlotte, but all across our state.
JOHN YANG: Activists and legal rights groups, like the ACLU, say they’re already exploring a court challenge to the law.
We explore this issue at the local and national level with Loretta Boniti, senior political reporter for Time Warner Cable News in North Carolina, and Dominic Holden, national LGBT reporter for BuzzFeed News.
Dominic and Loretta, thanks for joining us.
Loretta, let me start with you.
You covered this legislative action yesterday. As I understand it, the Charlotte ordinance that this is targeting hasn’t even gone into effect yet. Did the legislative leaders say why they felt the need for a special session here?
LORETTA BONITI, Time Warner Cable News: Well, the legislative leaders said that they could have waited until after the ordinance went into effect on April 1, but they thought it was smart not to let it go into effect and then to go back and say, by the way, no, you can’t do that once they go into their special session on April — or their regular session on April 25.
So, they said, we should come back beforehand and never let this go into effect. And they felt like this was necessary, even though the governor had said he thought that they could wait until the end of April to take care of this.
JOHN YANG: A lot of the discussion that I heard, Loretta, on the floor debate focused on the provision about allowing transgender people to choose which bathroom the use.
Do you think, if that — if it hadn’t been for that, they might not have acted so quickly?
LORETTA BONITI: I think that’s the issue that really prompted folks to say that they needed to come back. That’s what they were getting the phone calls from, from their constituents, saying that, to them, this seems like something that was a concern. They say it was a safety concern. They wanted to make sure that someone who is biologically a male cannot go into a female restroom legally in North Carolina.
And they said they wanted to stop that from happening before it became law.
JOHN YANG: Dominic, help us put this in perspective. How does both what Charlotte did in their ordinance and what the North Carolina state legislature did fit into the spectrum, as it were, of what’s going on around the country in city councils and in state legislatures?
DOMINIC HOLDEN, Buzzfeed News: What the city council did in Charlotte was very common in the United States. There are about 200 cities with ordinances like these that ban discrimination against LGBT people.
What the lawmakers did in the North Carolina capitol in response is increasingly common this year. There were more than 100 bills filed that target LGBT people in some way, an unprecedented number, and that is seen as a backlash to the decision last year by the U.S. Supreme Court, which allowed marriage in all 50 states between same-sex couples.
These bills have a number of forms. Some of them are religious protection bills, such as one in Missouri, and another one in Georgia right now, although the one in North Carolina was somewhat unique, in that it combined two other types of bills we have seen.
One is a preemption bill that overrides local jurisdictions, and the other would ban transgender students from school restrooms that correspond with their gender identity. And so North Carolina put these two together.
And the second one about banning students from school restrooms is the first of its kind in the entire country. And there are questions then raised about what this means legally for the state. The Obama administration has said that civil rights laws ban that sort of discrimination against transgender people in schools, and so this seems like it’s ripe for a legal challenge.
JOHN YANG: And, Dominic, have local communities been establishing rights for transgender people in terms of restrooms? Is that something that we’re seeing a lot of, or is it just because of Caitlyn Jenner we’re paying more attention to it?
DOMINIC HOLDEN: This is very standard.
So, the way that many of these laws are written is that they ban discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation or gender identity in places of employment, in housing, and in public accommodation. And this is widely been interpreted to say that transgender people can use restrooms that correspond with their gender identity.
There are 17 states with such laws, more than 200 cities, but, in recent times, the last few years in particular, conservative activists have latched onto this to suggest that there is some sort of safety threat presented.
JOHN YANG: Loretta, what’s been the reaction around North Carolina, particularly the business community, which has been important in these cases in other states?
LORETTA BONITI: We have heard a lot from the business community come out and say that they really don’t like the sounds of this law. I think they’re still trying to figure out exactly what it will do here in North Carolina.
We haven’t heard anybody come outright and say, well, I’m leaving North Carolina because of this law, but we have several big businesses, like Red Hat, American Airlines that are based here who have said they don’t like the way that this law works. And, obviously, when you start seeing big businesses like that speak out against something, that will lead to probably a ripple effect of more and more businesses coming out against it.
JOHN YANG: Dominic, you mentioned the same-sex marriage decision by the Supreme Court last year. We have also seen gays in the military issue being resolved. Is this now the new battleground for LGBTQ rights in state legislatures over issues like this?
DOMINIC HOLDEN: After marriage equality, there’s no question that the primary interests of the LGBT movement is to pass nondiscrimination protections federally.
Where they’re running into problems is on the local level with this issue about bathrooms. But it’s important to note that in the 200 cities and 17 states with laws like this already on the books, there are no examples documented of someone using it for nefarious purposes, of a transgender person who is this sex predator in the bathroom.
It’s got no factual foothold. If anything, the irony in this is that it actually would require — and North Carolina now requires transgender men who have beards, who are muscular, to use the women’s restroom. So it actually creates the very problem that it claims to solve.
Nonetheless, it’s really put LGBT advocates in a difficult place because they haven’t figured out how to respond to this. And for the most part, they have not taken it on directly.
JOHN YANG: Dominic Holden, Loretta Boniti, thanks very much.