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More restrooms to be open to transgender individuals with lawsuit settlement

Transgender North Carolinians will be able to legally choose the restroom matching their gender identity in more government-controlled buildings under a legal settlement announced Tuesday.

The settlement, part of the ongoing legal fight following 2016’s passage of House Bill 2, applies to public administrative agency buildings controlled by the executive branch. That includes state parks, historic sites and rest stops as well as most administrative offices in the state capital.

The settlement language prohibits the use of HB142 — the successor to HB2 — to “bar, prohibit, block, deter, or impede any transgender individuals from using public facilities under any Executive Branch Defendant’s control or supervision, in accordance with the transgender individual’s gender identity.”

HB142 was always seen as an unacceptable compromise and LGBTQ and became part of the same lawsuit brought by a group of transgender North Carolinians  after the Republican controlled General Assembly passed HB2 in 2016. The bill got international attention and the issue of transgender rights became a major campaign point in Gov. Roy Cooper’s successful campaign against former governor Pat McCrory.

Political pressure — including large scale business boycotts of the state — led to the repeal of HB2. But its successor, HB142, still gave the government the right to decide which restroom transgender people used and barred local non-discrimination ordinances dealing with the issue until the end of 2020.

Last year a federal judge ruled HB142 does not bar transgender people from using public restrooms and other facilities in accordance with their gender identity. Tuesday’s settlement doesn’t settle the question of HB2’s lawfulness during the period when it was made law in North Carolina. That question has been stayed pending several LGBTQ-related employment discrimination cases to be resolved by the U.S. Supreme Court.

Plaintiffs in the suit called Tuesday’s settlement announcement a victory — but an incomplete one.

“After so many years of managing the anxiety of H.B. 2 and fighting so hard, I am relieved that we finally have a court order to protect transgender people from being punished under these laws.” said Joaquin Carcaño, the lead plaintiff, in a prepared statement.

“This is a tremendous victory but not a complete one,” Carcaño said. “While I am glad that Governor Cooper agreed to this settlement, it remains devastating to know that local protections for LGBTQ people are still banned under state law while so many members of our community continue to face violence, harassment and discrimination simply because of who we are.”

Irena Como, acting legal director of the ACLU of North Carolina, said her organization was happy to get some relief for transgender North Carolinians — but emphasized the battle is far from over.

“While this part of the court fight may be ending, so much urgent work remains as long as people who are LGBTQ are denied basic protections from violence and discrimination simply because of who they are,” Como said in a statement.

“The shameful stain of House Bill 2 and harm it caused to so many people will always be part of North Carolina’s history,” Como said. “LGTQ North Carolinians still lack comprehensive, statewide nondiscrimination protections while on the job, patronizing a business open to the public, or simply going about their daily lives.”

Kendra Johnson, executive director of Equality NC, echoed that sentiment in a statement Tuesday.

““This settlement is cause for celebration and a step in the right direction,” Johnson said. “However, it only goes so far to protect the lives and safety of trans people in this state. We must continue to fight for the full repeal of HB 142 and comprehensive nondiscrimination protections for LGBTQ folks across our state and nation. Otherwise, LGBTQ North Carolinians will never truly be safe.”

Equality NC Policy Director Ames Simmons also pushed for a more complete solution.

“Saying that no one can stop you from using the restroom is not the same thing as saying that the state will protect your right to use the restroom,” Simmons sad. “Transgender and gender non-conforming people are incrementally safer from violence and from the health disparities that result from anxiety about whether there are safe restrooms available. However, until the state legislature fully repeals HB2 and HB142, trans people in North Carolina cannot enjoy the peace of mind that local and state government will have our back when we need it.”

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