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Local politicians, residents weigh in on House Bill 2

National Public Radio

On March 23, Governor Pat McCrory signed House Bill 2 into law – restricting the power of local governments to pass certain laws: namely, the ability to let transgender people use restrooms based on their gender identity instead of their given sex in certain, government run buildings.  

This came after the City of Charlotte passed an ordinance in February allowing individuals to use restrooms based on their gender identity.

It’s created a stir nationwide and here at home. Chris Thomas has more.

State Legislator Larry Bell Sr. was in a bind last week.

He’s a former party whip in the State House of Representatives, who would urge his fellow Democrats to vote the party line. But he and 11 other Democrats went across the aisle during a special session of the General Assembly and voted for House Bill 2.

It was not an easy vote for him to cast for a number of reasons.

“It was difficult to give the perception that I…had any kind of biases against the…LGBT population (because) I don’t and I never have and I don’t have any prejudice against anyone.”

House Bill 2, now the law of the state, dominates the airwaves and headlines and its inspired strong responses, both for and against, its passing.

Bell, who represents Duplin, Sampson, and Wayne counties, said he fulfilled the desires of the people who put him into office. 

“I live in an evangelical area…in the eastern part of North Carolina. It’s different from what it would be in some of the more metropolitan when it comes to that kind of issue. But here, it’s not any question when you start talking about bathrooms. People say ‘oh no. You can’t have people deciding they want to go in there or whatever. What’s been wrong with what’s been happening in the past?’”

He referred to the first two parts of House Bill 2, which cover gender-specific restrooms and changing rooms in certain, government run buildings, including Public Schools and Universities.

It’s the part of the law getting the most press, but the law also:

  • Omits sexual orientation and gender identity from groups protected from work and service discrimination and…
  • Forbids local governments from compelling private businesses or contractors to raise their minimum wage

Some critics of the bill believe conservatives went too far and even disregarded one of their main, ideological tenants – small government.
“The reaction we get when something comes out of Washington, telling us what we can and cannot do, then we’re saying that they should stay out of our business,

That’s Democratic State Representative, Shelly Willingham of Edgecombe and Martin Counties.

“We should be able to govern our own people. Well, the same thing here, especially the Republican Party, the party that says…‘small government and…self-government.’ Well, we’re doing the very opposite.”

But that may not be the case, according to Mitch Kokai of the John Locke Foundation. He said North Carolina is what’s known as a “Dillon Rule” state, which affects the power of local governments.

“Local governments in North Carolina are restricted in what they’re able to do based on the powers and ability that the state government as granted to them…a Dillon Rule state like North Carolina, local governments can basically do only what the state has allowed them to do.”

The John Locke Foundation is a right-leaning organization, but hasn’t taken a stance on House Bill 2.

Last Sunday, 100 or so individuals gathered on the Pitt County Court House steps.  

One of those people was Mary Miller, who lives in Greenville.

“I am not only outrage by the subject of the bill, I am also outraged by the procedural process.”

The special session of the General Assembly lasted one day and it’s been reported that lawmakers had only a few minutes to look over the bill before voting on it.  

“This is not the first time, I understand, that our legislators, have brought a bill before themselves, without giving the opposition the opportunity to read it, and push the vote through and have the governor signs in in a ridiculous amount of time. There’s no time for civil discourse.”

But there are myriad opinions on House Bill 2 and the issues they raise

A few days later in Downtown New Bern, I met up with Dallas, who lives half-of-the-year in Wilmington and the other half near Pittsburgh. He has a different point of view on the issues raised by the law.

“A person should use the restroom that reflects the gender they were born with. Not to discriminate, and everyone says they have a lot of concern about children and perverts, and I’m not sure that’s the most important thing, but I think if you’re born with a sex, I don’t care if you change your sex, I don’t care if you’re straight or gay…I just think you should stick to your own restroom.”

Dallas said he doesn’t support discrimination, but like many bill supporters, he worries about the welfare of individuals who may be left especially vulnerable if Charlotte’s ordinance were allowed to stand.

“I don’t want my 3-year-old granddaughter in a lady’s restroom and some man walks in.”

Willingham believes the new law will do little to prevent unsavory characters from assault of any kind and may have the opposite effect by putting everyone’s privacy at stake.

“Nothing is going to change. For instance, I mean, who knows who’s going to the bathroom? Really. I can’t tell the difference if someone’s transgender or whatever. You’re not going to be able to tell the difference unless someone comes out and says that person is someone other than what they are and then you’re supposed to go and prove it – ‘show me your birth certificate’…to me, it’s redundant, it doesn’t make any sense…what it has done is made the state the laughing stock of the country.”  

Willingham is also concerned about the economic backlash the law could cause. Companies and sports organizations, including the National Basketball Association, Facebook, and American Airlines have voiced their concerns about the measure.

Kokai, though, believes only time will tell what the affect will be.

“If you speak with the folks who are big supporters of this legislation, they are trumpeting that they have names of several hundred businesses that are supporting what the General Assembly did, only a handful of which are coming forward and putting their names out there, but the North Carolina Values Coalition…have said ‘many businesses don’t want to speak out because they’re worried about getting boycotts or protests from the groups that were actively pushing this legislation [the Charlotte ordinance]. It’s hard to say at this point what’s going to be the economic impact.”

We’ll continue to cover this story in the coming weeks.

I’m Chris Thomas.

The text of House Bill 2 (2016):