North Carolina Debates Repeal of Transgender Bathroom Law

A bathroom sign welcomes both genders at the Cacao Cinnamon coffee shop in Durham, North Carolina May 3. North Carolina on Monday sued the U.S. Justice Department after the department challenged the state's law on public restroom access for transgender people. Jonathan Drake/File Photo/Reuters

North Carolina's Senate Republicans on Wednesday proposed repealing the state's law restricting transgender restroom access, but outraged the law's opponents by adding a provision to temporarily ban cities from passing measures to support transgender rights.

The legislation filed by Senate President Phil Berger followed hours of closed-doors talks among Republicans, who met in a special session to consider scrapping the law that has put North Carolina at the center of America's debate over transgender rights.

The state in March became the first to bar transgender people from using public restrooms that match their gender identity, citing traditional values and a need for public safety. Opponents called it mean-spirited and unnecessary.

National backlash was swift and fierce, leading to boycotts that were blamed for millions of dollars in economic losses for North Carolina, as major sporting events such as the National Basketball Association All-Star Game were moved out of state.

The pushback was widely cited as the reason Republican Governor Pat McCrory lost his re-election bid in November to Democrat Roy Cooper, who called for the repeal of the law known as House Bill 2, or HB 2.

But action was delayed in both legislative chambers on Wednesday, creating an air of uncertainty.

Republicans eventually proposed pairing the repeal with a six-month "cooling off period," in which local jurisdictions would be banned from enacting their own ordinances regulating public bathrooms, showers or changing facilities.

Critics of the law cried foul.

"This wasn't the deal," Democratic Senator Jeff Jackson said on Twitter, adding that the Republican Party had "broken its promise" to repeal HB 2.

Transgender rights advocates were outraged that HB 2 might not be repealed in full.

"The North Carolina General Assembly is a national disgrace," Mara Keisling, director of the National Center for Transgender Equality, said in a statement.

HB 2 was enacted largely in response to a local measure in Charlotte that protected the rights transgender people to use public bathrooms of their choice.

The Charlotte City Council on Monday repealed its ordinance as a prelude to the state repealing HB 2.

But in the state House of Representatives, some Republicans who wanted to retain HB 2 protested the session being called at all. The law remains popular among social conservatives in rural areas of the state.

Addressing the Senate, Berger said his bill was designed to "take the state back to the status quo that existed before Charlotte passed its ordinance."