Several members of the Duke community have expressed concerns about a North Carolina law that overturns local LGBTQ non-discrimination ordinances.
House Bill 2 was passed by the North Carolina House of Representatives and Senate and signed by Governor Pat McCrory Wednesday after a special session held by the General Assembly. The law overturns a February Charlotte ordinance that created anti-discrimination protections for LGBTQ customers at private businesses and allowed transgender people to use restrooms aligned with their gender identity. House Bill 2 also prevents cities from implementing future anti-discrimination ordinances.
"It's an egregiously offensive and dangerous attack on our LGBTQ neighbors, an affront to civil rights and a rebuke of municipal government autonomy," wrote junior Tanner Lockhead, vice president of Durham and regional affairs in Duke Student Government, in an email.
Pope McCorkle, associate professor of the practice in the Sanford School of Public Policy, explained that the legislature can override city ordinances because cities do not have independent powers. However, the law is likely to face legal challenges involving its lack of specificity about what constitutes an anti-discriminatory ordinance, he said.
“There will have to be lawsuits to determine what should be eliminated," McCorkle said. "It’s incredibly far-reaching."
The University responded to the legislation Thursday afternoon, noting that the new law will have no impact on Duke facilities or policies.
"We deplore any effort to deny any person the protection of the law because of sexual orientation or gender identity,” wrote Michael Schoenfeld, vice president for government affairs and public relations, in an email. “Students, faculty and staff come to Duke from all over the world, and they pay attention to the legal and cultural atmosphere in the state."
Proponents of House Bill 2 noted that it was designed to promote privacy rather than exclusion. In a press release Wednesday, McCrory called the Charlotte ordinance a “radical breach of trust and security under the false argument of equal access.”
The bill passed with overwhelming Republican support in both the House and Senate, with 11 Democrats voting for it in the House and zero Democrats in the Senate.
The law also prohibits cities from creating minimum wage increases higher than North Carolina's minimum wage. McCrory noted in his press release that certain components of the bill should have waited until a regular session, but signed it because it "does not change existing rights under state or federal law."
Democratic state senator Mike Woodard, Trinity '81, called the legislation “an overreach” because of the speed with which it was introduced. Senators learned that there were various drafts of the bill in the weeks prior to the special session that had not been shared beforehand, he explained.
Woodard also noted that the rapid pace at which the legislation was introduced during the special session, going from introduction to a vote in 10 hours, meant senators were reading the legislation during the debate.
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“It was disrespectful to our processes, and frankly it was disrespectful to democracy," he said. "This is not how North Carolina should do business."
Woodard predicted that the state will see public backlash to the legislation as LGBTQ advocacy groups protest in advance of the upcoming election cycle.
“There will be a significant public reaction,” Woodard said. “I think what is going to happen in the weeks and months ahead is that people are going to get motivated and engaged with this issue.”
The Raleigh News & Observer reported that at least five protestors were arrested Thursday during a protest outside the Governor's Mansion in Raleigh.
Lockhead explained that the legislation promotes an anti-LGBTQ message that students must grapple with.
"This is the same homophobic hatred that shows up on East Campus dorm room walls and is given voice in the slurs heard loudly in too many corners of our own campus—this time codified into state law," he wrote. "As a native North Carolinian and member of the LGBT community, the message this dangerously regressive law sends is clear: not everyone is welcome here."