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ACLU Challenges Controversial North Carolina Transgender Law

AUDIE CORNISH, HOST:

North Carolina's attorney general said today that he will not defend the state in a federal lawsuit. That suit was filed yesterday over a new law which blocks transgender people from using the public restroom of their choice. It was signed by North Carolina's governor last Wednesday, a response to an ordinance in Charlotte allowing transgender people to use the bathrooms they want. From member station WFAE in Charlotte, Tom Bullock has more.

TOM BULLOCK, BYLINE: It took just 12 hours for HB2, as it's known, to go from bill into law. The Republican-controlled General Assembly only made the bill public once debate began, which prompted Representative Bobbie Richardson, a Democrat, to ask...

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BOBBIE RICHARDSON: Is it a possibility that we could be given at least five to 10 minutes to read this for ourselves from front to back?

BULLOCK: Her request was granted to the tune of five minutes. HB2 establishes North Carolina's first statewide nondiscrimination ordinance defining race, religion, color, national origin, age, biological sex or handicap as protected classes for things like employment and public housing. Sexual orientation, gender identity and gender expression are not included, and HB2 bars municipalities from adding to that list. Republican Representative Dan Bishop, who sponsored the bill, said that was appropriate.

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DAN BISHOP: Can we not trust that people acting in good will will find ways to accommodate each other?

BULLOCK: North Carolina's new law makes it the first state in the country to officially require people use the bathroom of the gender listed on their birth certificate. This is specifically spelled out for schools, and that is where the federal lawsuit comes in.

CHRIS BROOK: We're asking the court to overturn House Bill 2 because it is unconstitutional.

BULLOCK: Chris Brook is legal director for the North Carolina ACLU, one of the plaintiffs in the case.

BROOK: The law also violates Title IX by discriminating against students on the basis of sex.

BULLOCK: Title IX is part of a federal civil rights law which prohibits discrimination at schools which accept federal dollars. Joaquin Carcano is a transgender man who works at the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill. He's also a named plaintiff. Carcano says he and other trans people just want to use the restroom like everybody else.

JOAQUIN CARCANO: We use it just like you to pee in peace with privacy and without fear.

BULLOCK: By barring transgender individuals from using the facility of their choice, the federal suit argues HB2 violates Title IX and may endanger the four and a half billion dollars the U.S. Department of Education estimates North Carolina will receive this year. North Carolina's governor, Pat McCrory, disputes this claim. But Luke Largess, a civil rights lawyer, believes the state's Title IX funding may indeed be at risk.

LUKE LARGESS: I think that they got their head in the sand if they think this is not a Title IX violation.

BULLOCK: In April of 2014, the U.S. Department of Education issued guidelines which quote, "makes clear that transgender students are protected from discrimination under Title IX." This case will test those guidelines in a courtroom.

North Carolina's attorney general would typically defend the state in federal court, but at a press conference today, Roy Cooper called the law a national embarrassment.

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ROY COOPER: House Bill 2 is unconstitutional. Therefore, our office will not represent the defendants in this lawsuit nor future lawsuits.

BULLOCK: Now the state must hire outside counsel in order to defend the law in court. For NPR News, I'm Tom Bullock in Charlotte, N.C. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.