State Politics

Transgender bathroom bill not needed, Haley says

S.C. Gov. Nikki Haley said Thursday that a proposed law to limit the bathrooms that transgender people can use is not needed.

Haley said her office has not received any complaints about the issue, adding South Carolinians are respectful to people of different backgrounds.

“I don’t believe it’s necessary,” the Lexington Republican told reporters. “There’s not one instance that I’m aware of.

“When we look at our situation, we’re not hearing of anybody’s religious liberties that are being violated, and we’re again not hearing any citizens that are being violated in terms of freedoms,” she said. “Like it or not, South Carolina is doing really well when it comes to respect and when it comes to kindness and when it comes to acceptance. For people to imply it’s not, I beg to differ.”

Meanwhile, the state’s main business group lashed out at the chief sponsor of the transgender-bathroom bill.

The S.C. Chamber of Commerce will campaign actively against state Sen. Lee Bright, a Spartanburg Republican seeking a third term this year, chamber president Ted Pitts said Thursday. The chamber had concerns about Bright’s Senate performance before he introduced his transgender bill, Pitts said. Bright has three GOP primary challengers.

“Sen. Bright is trying to create a political crisis that doesn’t exist to save his political career,” said Pitts, a former chief of staff to Haley. “Meanwhile, our state has real issues we need to address, including crumbling roads and a (workforce) skills gap. We’ll be working on electing serious senators next year who will be focused on addressing the state’s infrastructure and workforce needs, and limiting government’s role in our lives.”

In discussing her opinion of the transgender-bathroom bill, Haley mentioned an S.C. religious-freedom law, passed in 1999, that allows business owners to exercise their beliefs. That differs from Bright’s bill, which deals with the rights of people based on their gender identity.

Haley said religious-freedom advocates see transgender people using the bathroom opposite from their birth gender as a violation of their rights. “They very much see this as something that goes against their religious beliefs.”

However, Bright said his proposal, which will have a Senate hearing Wednesday, is “totally different from a religious-freedom bill.”

“It’s a public-safety issue,” Bright said, referring to concerns that male predators could enter women’s restrooms.

Transgender advocates have said those fears are a myth. Every day, transgender men and women use public restrooms with no problems or disruptions, they add.

Several states have passed or are considering anti-gay laws, leading to some outcries from businesses.

North Carolina has passed HB2, banning local laws protecting employment and housing rights based on sexual orientation and identity, and Mississippi has passed a law allowing businesses to refuse service to customers based on the business owners’ religious beliefs.

“This is not a battle that we’ve seen is needed in South Carolina,” Haley said. “It’s not something that we see that citizens are asking for.”

Haley also questioned whether Bright’s proposal, introduced Wednesday, could win passage in the Senate before the May 1 deadline for a bill to cross over to the S.C. House for consideration. “Nothing is going to happen with the bill this year.”

Bright, whose bill added three new co-sponsors, said meeting the crossover deadline will be difficult, but he expects support for his bill to grow. The N.C. Legislature passed its anti-gay bill in less than a day during a special session last month.