Under the Dome

McCrory calls on Cooper to oppose transgender bathroom lawsuit

Gov. Pat McCrory wants North Carolina to join a lawsuit over whether a transgender teen can use a school bathroom.
Gov. Pat McCrory wants North Carolina to join a lawsuit over whether a transgender teen can use a school bathroom. dtfoster@charlotteobserver.com

Gov. Pat McCrory wants North Carolina to join a legal battle over whether a transgender Virginia high school student can use the men’s restroom at the teenager’s school.

President Barack Obama’s administration filed a friend-of-the-court brief in the lawsuit last month. The federal Department of Justice and Department of Education argue that the Gloucester County, Va., school board is preventing the teen from “a benefit that every other student at this school enjoys: access to restrooms that are consistent with his or her gender identity.”

The county is east of Richmond.

McCrory wrote to Attorney General Roy Cooper on Saturday asking him to join the South Carolina attorney general in filing an opposing friend-of-the-court brief.

“The Obama administration has joined with the ACLU in an attempt to force local school districts to open sex-specific student locker rooms and bathrooms to individuals that are not of that biological sex,” McCrory wrote to Cooper, a Democrat who’s challenging him in next year’s election.

“This extreme position directly contradicts the express language of federal law and threatens local control of our schools. It also disregards the safety and privacy concerns of parents and students.”

A spokeswoman for the attorney general’s office said Monday afternoon that Cooper reviewed McCrory’s request and that the state won’t be joining South Carolina’s friend-of-the-court brief.

Cooper’s political campaign also released a statement noting that McCrory recently called for Obama to stop sending Syrian refugees to North Carolina in the wake of the Paris terrorist attacks and then sought campaign money on the issue.

“This week, he’s found another group to politicize,” spokesman Jamal Little said. “Adolescence is hard enough without being bullied by an elected official. Next week, who knows who’ll be the target of a governor whose only path to re-election is dividing North Carolina.”

The Gloucester County student, born female, identifies as male and is seeking to use restrooms for male students. The school board in that county adoped a policy last year that requires students to use private restrooms or restrooms designated for their biological sex. The student’s lawsuit was filed in federal court in Norfolk, Va.

McCrory says he’s concerned that if the federal district court rules in favor of the Virginia student and the Obama administration, North Carolina school districts could be affected.

“It must be stopped before our state’s schools are impacted,” McCrory wrote. “North Carolina schools are already capable of working with students struggling with their gender identity in a compassionate manner to accommodate their needs while preserving the rights of students and parents.”

McCrory spokesman Graham Wilson said in an email Monday afternoon that the governor is “not opposed to transgender bathrooms” but “supports leaving that and other decisions to the local officials.”

But about two hours later Monday, Wilson said he misspoke and issued a new statement clarifying the governor’s position.

“Gov. McCrory is not in favor of transgender bathrooms,” he said.

Some North Carolina schools and universities have already adopted bathroom and locker room policies for transgender students.

Wake County schools handle transgender students’ requests on a case-by-case basis, allowing some to use a private staff bathroom or change clothes in a coach’s office or other gender-neutral location. Earlier this year, UNC-Charlotte adopted a policy that allows transgender students and staff to use the bathroom facilities of the gender they identify with.

Equality North Carolina – which advocates for gay and transgender people – issued a statement Monday backing the Obama administration’s position and calling McCrory’s letter “transparent and political.”

“Equality NC and our friends at ACLU will continue to stand up for trans students and applauds the White House’s clear direction that trans students should be able to use the restroom that matches their identity,” executive director Chris Sgro said. “With youth bullying and suicide rates being a crisis in this nation, picking on kids as a way to win political points is never acceptable.”

Read McCrory’s letter to Cooper here.

Colin Campbell: 919-829-4698, @RaleighReporter