Chapel Hill, N.C. — University of North Carolina President Margaret Spellings told chancellors of the 17-campus system this week that they need to abide by a new state law requiring people to use bathrooms that correspond to their biological gender but said no anti-discrimination policies need to be changed.
State lawmakers passed the Public Facilities Privacy & Security Act, commonly referred to as House Bill 2 or HB2, two weeks ago. In addition to the bathroom provision, which targets transgender people, the bill creates a statewide employment and public accommodations discrimination policy that excludes protections for LGBT people and blocks cities and counties from extending protections to them.
The North Carolina chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union, Lambda Legal and Equality NC, who have challenged the law in court on behalf of a UNC-Chapel Hill worker, a UNC-Greensboro student and a North Carolina Central University law professor, criticized Spellings' stance on Thursday.
"It’s incredibly disappointing that the University of North Carolina has concluded it is required to follow this discriminatory measure at the expense of the privacy, safety and wellbeing of its students and employees, particularly those who are transgender," the groups said in a joint statement. "By requiring people to use restrooms that do not correspond to their gender identity, this policy not only endangers and discriminates against transgender people, it also violates federal law."
HB2 spells out that the UNC system and the state Community College System are among the public agencies that must comply with the bathroom provision, so Spellings said campuses must label all multiple-occupancy bathrooms for single-sex use.
"Institutions may provide accommodations such as single-occupancy bathrooms or changing facilities and may designate those facilities as gender-neutral," Spellings wrote in her April 5 memo, adding that, "The Act does not contain provisions concerning enforcement of the bathroom and changing facility requirements."
She also noted in the memo that the law "does not require University institutions to change their nondiscrimination policies, and those policies should remain in effect."
UNC-Chapel Hill's policy includes protections based on sexual orientation and gender identity. Although HB2 allows agencies such as the university system to set policies for their own employees that exceed those in the state law, it's unclear whether students would be included in that loophole.
"Constituent institutions must continue to operate in accordance with their nondiscrimination policies and must take prompt and appropriate action to prevent and address any instances of harassment and discrimination in violation of University policies," Spellings wrote.
Durham joins list of HB2 opponents
The Durham City Council became the latest group to publicly oppose the new law, unanimously adopting a resolution Thursday reiterating the city's support of diversity.
"It's important to reaffirm the value and dignity of everyone who lives in Durham, particularly LGBT family members here in Durham," said Councilman Charlie Reece, who introduced the resolution.
Luke Hirst thanked the council members for their support but asked them to go further and add more public gender-neutral restrooms in City Hall.
"I made sure to use the bathroom at my workplace because, last time I checked, there were at least eight bathrooms here at City Hall, and not one is one I feel safe and comfortable using," Hirst said.
But Rose Sanchez spoke against Durham's resolution and in favor of HB2.
"I do support the governor. I believe many other citizens do too despite the resolution that has been proposed today," Sanchez said.
Several other cities statewide, including Chapel Hill and Carrboro, have adopted similar resolutions in the past two weeks, and scores of businesses have called for the General Assembly to repeal the measure when lawmakers reconvene April 25.
PayPal on Tuesday cited HB2 for its decision to cancel plans to open a $3.5 million operations center in Charlotte, which would have created 400 jobs.
Bill Kalkhof, chairman of the Durham Convention Authority Board, said a downtown hotel has lost $40,000 in business scheduled for October because of the law. He declined to name the hotel.
"We need to get in front of this as a community so that those conversations are not negative and that people understand, in Durham, we are open and welcoming to any group that wants to do business here," Kalkhof said. "I would hope this groundswell that’s occurring, that this groundswell will hopefully convince our state legislature when they reconvene shortly to go back and take a second look at the legislation."