Under the Dome

Answering your questions about North Carolina’s newest law

House Bill 2, which people are also calling HB2, the Charlotte bathroom bill, the anti-discrimination bill or the Public Facilities Privacy and Security Act became law Wednesday night, fewer than 12 hours after it was unveiled to the public.

Even though it was a major local and national news story, it’s understandable that many people are still scrambling to figure out exactly what was in it and what it does or does not do.

Here are a few of the more salient questions.

What’s in the law?

It bans transgender people from using the bathroom of the gender they identify with. Everyone has to go to the bathroom of the gender on their birth certificate. And it bans cities and counties from loosening that restriction.

But that’s not all. It also nullified local ordinances around the state that would have protected gay or transgender people from being fired simply for their sexual preference or identify. It also clears the way for businesses to refuse to serve gay or transgender patrons.

The state has always had laws on workplace discrimination, public accommodation, minimum wage and other business issues. This law makes it unlawful for cities to expand upon those laws, like Charlotte and more than a dozen others had done.

Now the state’s recognized classes for discrimination are limited to “race, religion, color, national origin, age, biological sex or handicap.”

Cities and counties can no longer expand their local rules to ban discrimination against people for being gay, transgender, a veteran or a parent, to list some examples. Most local governments statewide had never seen fit to do so, but at least 17 did have some sort of anti-discrimination ordinance that is now moot – including Chapel Hill, Durham and Raleigh.

Why did Republican lawmakers (and a few Democrats) support it?

Some parents and family values activists voiced concerns over Charlotte’s ordinance – particularly as it concerned transgender people and bathrooms. And the law itself says that having uniformity across the state will help boost the economy.

“The General Assembly finds that laws and obligations consistent statewide for all businesses, organizations, and employers doing business in the State will improve intrastate commerce,” according to the bill.

What does ‘transgender’ mean?

It’s an adjective, not a noun. It refers to people who don’t identify with the gender they were born as. It’s also different from sexuality – just because someone is transgender doesn’t mean he or she is gay.

How many transgender people live in North Carolina?

No one knows for sure. But a widely cited national study from 2011 found that 0.3 percent of adults identify as transgender, which corresponds to about 23,000 adults in North Carolina.

What can police do to a transgender person caught in the wrong bathroom?

There isn’t a specific state law against it. The law passed Wednesday banned cities from making it OK, but it didn’t establish any punishment for individuals.

Yet several senators sent a letter last month to Attorney General Roy Cooper saying there are broader laws that police could use to charge people, like indecent exposure or trespassing. A 2015 post from the UNC-Chapel Hill School of Government’s criminal law blog came to the same conclusion.

And cities are still allowed to have rules restricting bathrooms, even if they can’t do the opposite anymore. Raleigh, for example, has an ordinance that specifies it’s “unlawful for a member of one sex to enter or use a facility provided for members of the opposite sex.”

Getting back to statewide application of the new law, what about parents accompanying small children?

Children ages 7 or younger can be accompanied to public restrooms by a parent of the opposite gender. If they’re 8 or older, however, they have to go with a parent of the same gender or go alone.

What about special-needs children who may need assistance from parents or teachers even after they turn 8?

The law doesn’t specifically address that, and many parents of special-needs children (and adults) have expressed worry that they could get in trouble. But the law does have a handful of exemptions, including the rather broad provision “to accompany a person needing assistance.”

What if my birth certificate says I’m female, but I look like and live as a man?

Go to the women’s room, even if you’re sporting a full beard. The law says the only definition of male or female that North Carolina acknowledges is what’s on your birth certificate.

Is it possible to change the gender on my birth certificate?

The law varies by state. A few states won’t change the gender no matter what. Most states, including North Carolina, require proof of sex reassignment surgery. Other states will change it without that proof.

Parts of the law shield businesses from some discrimination lawsuits. So do businesses like the law?

GOP leaders said they had business support, but no major corporations have spoken out in favor of it. Some could certainly be privately supporting it, but on the other hand, a number of major companies have publicly chastised North Carolina.

PayPal, which recently announced a major expansion in Charlotte, criticized the law. Triangle area companies have also come out against it, including Red Hat, Biogen, Citrix, Bayer and IBM. Other companies opposed to the law include Apple, Microsoft, Facebook, Google, Wells Fargo, American Airlines, Lowe’s and Marriott.

The NBA, NCAA and ESPN have all also chimed in to say they’re watching how things progress here, and that they value diversity.

Doran: 919-836-2858; Twitter: @will_doran

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