Trump Administration Drops Transgender Bathroom Lawsuit Against North Carolina, But Boycotts Persist

The Trump administration on Friday dropped a federal lawsuit that challenged North Carolina's House Bill 2, citing the repeal last month of the controversial law as its impetus.
by | April 17, 2017 AT 1:00 PM

By Anne Blythe

The Trump administration on Friday dropped a federal lawsuit that challenged North Carolina's House Bill 2, citing the repeal last month of the controversial law as its impetus.

But as large cities and states across the nation reaffirmed their travel bans to North Carolina to take stands against LGBT discrimination, questions remain about the effect of the compromise law adopted in HB2's place.

Sixteen mayors from across North Carolina _ including Raleigh Mayor Nancy McFarlane, Charlotte Mayor Jennifer Roberts and Winston-Salem Mayor Allen Joines _ have sent a letter to mayors in Seattle, New York City and Chicago urging them to consider putting North Carolina back on their travel lists.

"(W)e won't stand by idly when discriminatory policies threaten the rights of any single group or community," Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel said Thursday. "Until North Carolina acknowledges the rights of the LGBTQ community and treats all individuals fairly, the city of Chicago will be taking our business elsewhere, and we encourage others to do the same."

The North Carolina mayors in their letter, released Friday, said that even though they do not have the same authority as the state General Assembly, their cities "remain safe, welcoming places for all people." The compromise that allowed the repeal of HB2 allows conversations about LGBT rights and protections to continue "without the heated rhetoric," the North Carolina mayors added.

That compromise, brokered by Gov. Roy Cooper, state business leaders and key legislators, got rid of the bathroom provision that required transgender people to use restrooms in government buildings that corresponded with the gender listed on their birth certificates.

But House Bill 142, which was adopted three weeks ago, creates a moratorium on local nondiscrimination ordinances through Dec. 1, 2020. And it leaves regulation of bathrooms, showers and changing facilities to state lawmakers, not the universities, community colleges, local school systems and other state agencies that had been setting their own policies.

The federal lawsuit that was dropped by the Trump Justice Department on Friday was filed nearly a year ago by Loretta Lynch, a North Carolina native and the U.S. attorney general under former President Barack Obama.

Though the actions by the Trump Justice Department on Friday did away with one lawsuit challenging HB2, the ACLU and Lambda Legal have no plans to step away from another lawsuit pending in federal court. That suit was filed a year ago by a transgender man who works at UNC-Chapel Hill, a lesbian law professor at N.C. Central University, a transgender man who is a student at UNC-Greensboro, a transgender teenage girl who is a student at the UNC School of the Arts and a lesbian couple in Charlotte.

The plaintiffs have said not only do they plan to continue seeking damages from the harms of HB2, they plan to amend their lawsuit to encompass HB142.

"The Trump administration may want to use the fake repeal of HB2 as an excuse to further turn their backs on the transgender community, but the rest of us aren't going to give up that easily," James Esseks, director of the ACLU's LGBT Project, said in a statement. "We'll continue this fight as long as it takes to truly strike down this disastrous law for good."

Former Gov. Pat McCrory, who signed HB2 into law, praised the Trump administration's action in a statement released by the North Carolina GOP. "The Trump administration has taken a very reasonable and common sense action that is welcomed," McCrory said.

The path through the federal courts for the lawsuits challenging HB2 and fighting for transgender rights have taken new directions and been subject to scheduling changes several times since President Donald Trump's inauguration. They also have been affected by a recent U.S. Supreme Court ruling in the case of a Virginia teen whose lawsuit against the Gloucester County schools has been a major test for transgender rights.

The Virginia case awaits a rehearing in the 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals. The North Carolina challenge of HB2 also is set for arguments at the Richmond-based federal appeals court in early May.

Earlier this week, the appeals court asked Lambda Legal and the ACLU for more information about how HB142 will affect their case. Each side is to file new arguments by late April to a court in which two of the judges recently described Gavin Grimm, the teen from Virginia fighting for transgender rights, as a courageous civil rights leader.

The 4th Circuit announced on April 7 that Grimm's case against the Gloucester County School Board would not be heard before he is scheduled to graduate. Judge Andre M. Davis, a senior judge appointed in 2009 by Obama, used a separate court order to let Grimm know he would be remembered with other "brave individuals" such as "Dred Scott, Fred Korematsu, Linda Brown, Mildred and Richard Loving, Edie Windsor, and Jim Obergefell, to name just a few _ who refused to accept quietly the injustices that were perpetuated against them."

In the order, also signed by Judge Henry F. Floyd, another Obama appointee, Davis added that Grimm's case was "about much more than bathrooms."

"It's about a boy asking his school to treat him just like any other boy," the order states. "It's about protecting the rights of transgender people in public spaces and not forcing them to exist on the margins."

(c)2017 The News & Observer (Raleigh, N.C.)