A gender-neutral bathroom is seen at the University of California, Irvine in Irvine, California. Photo by Reuters.

UNC cannot enforce part of HB2, federal judge rules

A federal judge has blocked the University of North Carolina from enforcing part of the state’s recent law that limits bathroom use by transgender people, adding that the plaintiffs “are likely to succeed on their claim” that the law is discriminatory.

House Bill 2, a state law passed in March, requires transgender people to use bathrooms matching the sex listed on their birth certificate. It also repealed an LGBT protections law in Charlotte and prevents other cities from passing similar legislation. While the case is still being heard, Friday’s preliminary injunction will prevent the university from enforcing the provision of the law that applies to bathroom use for the plaintiffs in the case.

The American Civil Liberties Union, ACLU of North Carolina, Lambda Legal, and Equality North Carolina issued a legal challenge to the law in late March on behalf of students and employees at UNC schools. They include employees at UNC-Chapel Hill and North Carolina Central University and students at UNC-Greensboro and University of North Carolina School of the Arts High School.

Joaquin Carcaño, a transgender man who works at UNC-Chapel Hill and a plaintiff in the case, said he was celebrating the injunction.

“Today is a great day for me and hopefully this is the start to chipping away at the injustice of HB2 that is harming thousands of other transgender people who call North Carolina home,” Carcaño said in a statement. “Today, the tightness that I have felt in my chest every day since HB2 passed has eased. But the fight is not over: we won’t rest until this discriminatory law is defeated.”

Other members of the community responded to the decision on Twitter.

UNC-Chapel Hill issued a statement in April noting that HB2 applied to its campuses, but that statement did not say whether, or how, the university planned to enforce it.

“We have been asked how the University intends to ‘enforce’ this provision of the law. As noted in the memorandum, the law does not contain any provisions concerning enforcement,” university officials said.

One key issue in the battle over HB2 hinges on the interpretation of Title IX, which outlaws sex discrimination in education. According to the Department of Education, transgender people are entitled to use the bathroom that matches their gender identity under Title IX’s sex discrimination protections.

In Friday’s ruling, U.S. District Court Judge Thomas Schroeder referenced a previous decision by the 4th Circuit Court of Appeals on G.G. v. Gloucester County School Board, a case brought by a transgender Virginia high school student that also followed the DOE’s guidance on Title IX. (The Supreme Court issued an injunction on that ruling in early August while it decides whether to hear the case.)

The ruling in that case applies throughout the 4th Circuit, which also hears appeals from parts of North Carolina, Schroeder wrote, adding that HB2’s “wholesale ban on access to facilities is inconsistent with DOE’s guidance on Title IX compliance under G.G.”

North Carolina Gov. Pat McCrory has defended the law. “This extremely new social norm came in a very quick time, and we need to have these discussions,” he said on Meet the Press in April.

But members of the LGBT community and advocates roundly criticized McCrory after the bill was passed, saying the law unfairly discriminates against transgender people.

Emily Potter, who is bisexual and a senior at the University of North Carolina School of the Arts, said that HB2 “appalled” her when it was passed.

“I got really worried when it passed because I have a lot of friends, at school specifically but also at places around the country, that are put in danger daily for living their lives as transgender individuals,” she said.

A number of businesses have denounced the law, including NASCAR, PepsiCo, Hewlett Packard, Hyatt, Wells Fargo and Google. Private colleges, including Duke University, Wake Forest University and Davidson College also condemned the bill.

The Boston City Council, along with city mayors in San Francisco, Seattle and New York City, placed a ban on taxpayer-funded travel to North Carolina. The states of New York, Connecticut and Vermont did the same.

In response to critics, McCrory signed an executive order in April establishing employment protection for employees of the state government based on sexual orientation and gender identity.