Amid a barrage of criticism from major businesses and Democrats, North Carolina’s new LGBT law might get some tweaks when legislators return in late April.
Gov. Pat McCrory said in a video statement this week that he’d be open to “new ideas” for the law, although he provided no specifics.
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Several Republican legislators say they’d consider minor changes but aren’t willing to repeal major provisions of the law, which replaces local ordinances with a statewide nondiscrimination law that doesn’t include sexual orientation and gender identity as protected categories.
McCrory and lawmakers continue to speak out against the Charlotte ordinance that prompted the new law. They say they’re unwilling to allow transgender people to use a bathroom that doesn’t match their biological gender.
“This is not about demonizing one group of people,” McCrory said in the video. “Let’s put aside our differences, the political rhetoric and yes, hypocrisy, and work on solutions that will make this bill better in the future. I am open to new ideas and solutions.”
McCrory’s office did not respond to questions about what changes the governor might consider.
So far, House Speaker Tim Moore and Senate leader Phil Berger haven’t joined in McCrory’s call for “solutions.”
“Sen. Berger has received a number of questions this afternoon regarding whether he has an appetite to make changes to House Bill 2,” spokewoman Shelly Carver said in an email. “An overwhelming majority of North Carolinians we’ve heard from support the bathroom safety bill. So the short answer to those questions is no.”
A spokesman for Moore said Thursday that the speaker wouldn’t be available for interviews, and that he hadn’t watched McCrory’s video, which was posted Tuesday.
But the House speaker pro tem, Rep. Paul “Skip” Stam of Apex, said he’s researching one complaint about the law to see if a fix is needed. The law says people must use bathrooms that correspond with the sex on their birth certificate, and North Carolina law allows transgender people to change their birth certificates if they’ve had gender reassignment surgery.
But Stam says he’s learned of four states that don’t allow transgender people to make those updates after surgery. That could mean people born in those states might be required to use a bathroom that doesn’t match their biological sex.
“It could create an issue that I personally would look at,” Stam said, adding that he hasn’t seen a need for any other changes. “Like all laws, it’s subject to improvement. We’re not going to change the policy of the law.”
Senate Rules Chairman Tom Apodaca, a Republican from Hendersonville, made a similar suggestion in an interview with the Associated Press. But on Thursday, he declined to comment, citing a pending lawsuit challenging House Bill 2.
“I have been advised by the attorneys not to comment,” he said in an email.
Opponents of the law say simply changing the birth certificate requirement would not address their concerns. They note that many transgender people cannot afford surgery, and most transgender students affected by the law’s provision on school facilities have not had surgery.
Charlotte City Council member LaWana Mayfield – who is gay and was an early supporter of the city’s nondiscrimination ordinance – said Thursday that the entire law is objectionable, suggesting a compromise would be difficult for her to support.
“The whole thing needs to be stripped,” she said. “It shouldn’t have passed in the first place.”
But Rep. Ken Goodman of Rockingham – leader of the moderate Main Street Democrats and one of 11 legislators in his party who voted for House Bill 2 – said a compromise is needed to address the strong opposition.
“I don’t think anybody anticipated all the firestorm it has created,” Goodman said. “What I would like to do is get together with (legislative) leadership and the business community, and sit down and find something that maybe everybody could live with.”
Goodman said constituents in his rural district along the South Carolina border strongly support the law’s provision on transgender bathroom use. But he’s not a fan of the section that rolls back local discrimination protections for gay, lesbian and transgender people.
“I don’t know why we had to write that into this bill at all,” he said of the new statewide nondiscrimination law that excludes sexual orientation and gender identity.
But Rep. Nelson Dollar, a Cary Republican, said he’s not willing to drop that provision or rewrite the state nondiscrimination law to include the extra categories.
“Those definitions are very complex, and it would clearly lead to considerable litigation in the state and a considerable uncertainty as to how businesses should proceed in the state,” Dollar said.
Rep. John Torbett, a Gaston County Republican, said he expects the criticism from major businesses will die down once their leaders read the bill.
“It’s a pretty simplistic bill,” he said, adding that like the governor, he’s open to making improvements. “There’s no harm at all in looking at anything we have on the books and trying to make it better.”