Lawsuit challenges North Carolina anti-discrimination law

RALEIGH, N.C. (AP) — Gay and transgender rights supporters wasted little time in challenging a new North Carolina law, filing a lawsuit Monday that called it discriminatory and said it singles out LGBT people for “disfavored treatment.”

The law, which has also drawn strong opposition from major corporations, was signed by Republican Gov. Pat McCrory last week. The GOP-controlled legislature held a one-day special session and passed the law in response to a broad Charlotte ordinance that allowed transgender people to use the restroom aligned with their gender identity. The new state law prevents all cities and counties from extending protections to cover sexual orientation and gender identity at restaurants, hotels and stores.

“By singling out LGBT people for disfavored treatment and explicitly writing discrimination against transgender people into state law, (the new law) violates the most basic guarantees of equal treatment and the U.S. Constitution,” the lawsuit said.

With the law, North Carolina became the first state to require public school and university students to use only those bathrooms that match their birth certificates, according to the National Conference on State Legislatures.

Advocates for gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender rights say state legislators demonized them with bogus claims about bathroom risks. Supporters say the new law protects all people from having to share bathrooms with people who make them feel unsafe.

“The threat of this (law) that it presents to LGBT people and the whole of North Carolina is real and it is immediate,” said Chris Sgro, executive director of Equality North Carolina, whose group is a plaintiff.

Two transgender people, a lesbian law professor and two civil liberties groups sued. Lawsuit defendants include McCrory and the University of North Carolina system, where two of the plaintiffs work and another attends college. The system’s 17 campuses also must comply with the law.

Payton Grey McGarry, a student at UNC-Greensboro, and UNC-Chapel Hill employee Joaquin Carcano were born female and consider themselves male but have not changed their birth certificates. That’s important because a transgender person could use the bathroom aligned with their gender identity if they’ve had a medical sex change and change the biological sex on their certificate.

Carcano used a men’s restroom at work and McGarry used a campus locker room without any problems before the law was passed. Now they’ll have to search for bathrooms in other buildings because using women’s restrooms could cause them anxiety and fear, the lawsuit says.

“This is so much more than a restroom,” Carcano said at a news conference. “This is about dignity, about respect. It’s about valuing us as a broader part of the North Carolina community.”

The lawsuit says the new law violates equal protection provisions and would force transgender people to get a sex change to use their preferred bathroom. Lawyers also say the law violates federal Title IX rules, which bars discrimination by the UNC system on the basis of sex.

McCrory and his allies have defended the legislation, with the governor’s administration rolling out a Q&A to challenge criticism about what it calls “a common-sense privacy law.”

Another defendant is Attorney General Roy Cooper, a Democrat who wants the law repealed. He is challenging McCrory this fall for governor. Cooper is a defendant because his office defends the state in litigation. When asked whether Cooper would defend the state in court, attorney general’s office spokeswoman Noelle Talley said it had no immediate statement.

The North Carolina Values Coalition, which pressed the legislature to hold the one-day special session, called the lawsuit frivolous. Executive director Tami Fitzgerald said in a release the suit was filed by “groups that represent radical extremists who want to allow grown men to shower and use the bathroom next to little girls.”

About a dozen corporations with a North Carolina presence, from American Airlines to IBM, have expressed negative reactions to the legislation.

A spokesman for McCrory’s re-election campaign, Ricky Diaz, said last week businesses have voiced support for the measure. He and spokesmen for McCrory’s government office haven’t responded to questions asking that they identify them.

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