North Carolina Gov. Pat McCrory on Friday accused the Obama administration of trying to change “generations of gender etiquette” by directing public school systems to let transgender students use the bathrooms of the sexes with which they identify.
Other state Republican leaders joined him in denouncing the policy issued by the U.S. Department of Education.
“North Carolina will not stand by and let our locker rooms and high school showers be used for social experimentation at the expense of the privacy and protection of our young boys and girls,” Lt. Gov. Dan Forest said.
Forest contended that “current state policy protects our children by maintaining bathrooms and restrooms consistent with the biological sex of the child.”
But Rep. Grier Martin, a Raleigh Democrat, pointed to comments Thursday from June Atkinson, the superintendent of North Carolina schools, who said state schools already complied with the administration policy, rather than with a new North Carolina law. Martin accused Republicans of “political posturing.”
“These schools are out there already doing this, and I haven’t heard about any concerns or complaints about it yet,” Martin said. “That tells me that the approach we have now is a great starting point.”
North Carolina is at the center of the ideological debate over the civil rights of transgender students. The McCrory administration launched a legal battle this week to defend the state law enacted in March that requires transgender people to use the bathrooms of their biological sexes – and promptly drew a countersuit from the Justice Department. The legislature passed the law to pre-empt the city of Charlotte from implementing an ordinance protecting transgender rights by allowing people to use bathrooms matching their gender identities.
McCrory, a former Charlotte mayor, said the federal government “has instituted federally mandated edicts that affect employees as well as every parent and child within a public school system.” He said the federal policy would alter “generations of gender etiquette and privacy norms, which parents, children and employees have expected in the most personal and private settings of their everyday lives.”
He reiterated his belief “that government is searching for a solution to a problem that has yet to be defined” by Congress or the courts.
“Now, both the federal courts and the U.S. Congress must intercede to stop this massive executive branch overreach, which clearly oversteps constitutional authority,” the governor said.
North Carolina Senate leader Phil Berger, a Rockingham Republican, also accused the president of usurping Congress’ authority.
“The last time I checked, the United States is not ruled by a king who can bypass Congress and the courts and force school-aged boys and girls to share the same bathrooms and locker rooms,” he said. “This is an egregiously unconstitutional overreach of the president's authority, and North Carolina's public schools should follow state law, which protects our children’s safety and privacy.”
State House Speaker Tim Moore said “parents all across the country are waking up to find that the Obama administration has sent every public school a letter requiring the schools to allow boys and girls to share locker rooms and restrooms. This is no longer a North Carolina issue, this is a national issue.”
Moore said he and other House Republicans “continue to maintain that federal laws should only be changed, if at all, by Congress and not by a president advancing his agenda through funding threats or by the federal judiciary.”
Moore referred to a threat by Attorney General Loretta Lynch that federal agencies could withhold hundreds of millions of dollars in education grant money from the state if it did not relent. The White House said Thursday, however, that it would not withhold funding until the litigation over the issue was resolved.
Democrat Martin said that if, as Atkinson said, state schools already let transgender people choose which bathrooms or locker rooms room to use, “I’m not really sure what all these indignant statements are about other than political posturing.”
Martin was asked whether bathroom access should be a discrimination issue.
“Who would have thought 60 years ago that water fountains were vehicles for discrimination?” he said. “This is not the first time that plumbing has been an issue of discrimination in North Carolina.”
Campbell reports for The News & Observer of Raleigh, North Carolina.