Under the Dome

McCrory to join transgender bathroom lawsuit without Cooper’s help

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

Despite opposition from Attorney General Roy Cooper, Gov. Pat McCrory announced Tuesday that he’ll join a legal battle over whether a transgender Virginia high school student can use the men’s restroom at the teenager’s school.

McCrory called on Cooper to join a friend-of-the-court brief that the South Carolina attorney general plans to file, but Cooper declined. His office did not respond to a request to explain his reasons for the decision, but his gubernatorial campaign issued a statement criticizing McCrory for “politicizing” the issue.

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.”

McCrory argues that if Obama and the transgender student prevail, North Carolina schools would be affected by the ruling. He said he’ll join the lawsuit “in his capacity as governor.”

“North Carolina parents deserve certainty about who is entering their children’s bathrooms and locker rooms at our public schools and students must be confident that their privacy and well-being will be respected,” McCrory said in a news release Tuesday. “Transgender identity is a complex issue and is best handled with reason and compassion at the local level, instead of mandates being forced on the people by Washington and the Obama administration.”

Cooper has declined to defend some Republican-sponsored laws before when they were struck down in court and Republican leaders wanted to appeal. That caused the McCrory administration to hire its own attorneys outside the attorney general’s office. A McCrory spokesman said his involvement in the transgender case won’t require any outside attorney.

Senate leader Phil Berger issued a news release Tuesday criticizing Cooper for refusing to join the lawsuit.

“This is political correctness run amok, and it’s a shame Roy Cooper is pandering to the political extremes of his base instead of putting student safety and common sense first,” Berger said. “If the attorney general thinks forcing middle school-aged boys and girls to use the same locker room is going to create jobs for anyone other than his trial lawyer friends, he should explain how.”

Advocacy groups for gay and transgender people have praised Cooper’s decision. “Let’s elect a governor in 2016 that won’t bully LGBT kids!” the LGBT Democrats of North Carolina posted on Facebook.

Colin Campbell: 919-829-4698, @RaleighReporter