The president of the University of North Carolina told chancellors at the system’s 17 campuses that they must implement the state’s new “bathroom bill,” but warned state leaders that the law, which requires people to use public restrooms in accordance with the sex on their birth certificate, could endanger the system’s federal funding and hurt alumni giving and recruitment efforts.
The new law is the first in the nation to require people to use public bathrooms in accordance with their “biological sex,” requiring transgender people to use public restrooms in accordance with the sex on their birth certificate rather than their gender identity. The law, which also prohibits local governments from extending nondiscrimination protections to gay and transgender people, has prompted backlash from LGBT activists and the business community, who have called it an attack on LGBT rights. Supporters have called it a necessary requirement to safeguard privacy.
University of North Carolina President Margaret Spellings, who was the education secretary under President George W. Bush, wrote in a memo to chancellors this week that they should inform students of the new legal requirements and ensure that all multi-occupancy bathrooms are designated for either males or females. But Spellings pointed out that the new law “does not contain provisions concerning enforcement” of the bathroom requirements.
“We will not be policing bathrooms,” said university system spokeswoman Joni Worthington.
The memo also tells chancellors that they are free to keep their campus nondiscrimination policies, even if they extend to gay and transgender students and employees.
Worthington said Spellings’ memo should not be construed as an “endorsement” of H.B. 2. To the contrary, Spellings has raised “concerns with what the law symbolizes and the chilling effect its having across the UNC system,” said Worthington. She said Spellings has spoken with state leaders about the adverse impact it is having on recruitment and retention and alumni giving.
“As a state institution, the university has an obligation to comply with laws passed by our state’s general assembly,” Worthington said, adding that Spellings put out the memo in response to questions from chancellors who wanted clarity on their obligations under the law.
Spellings also has concerns about whether the law could endanger the system’s federal funding, Worthington said.
The U.S. Department of Education said it is looking into the law. The department has previously taken the position that bathroom restrictions for transgender students amounts to a violation of Title IX, the federal law that bars sex discrimination at schools that receive federal funding. It threatened to pull funding from an Illinois school district that barred a transgender girl from the girls’ locker room.
“We are reviewing North Carolina’s new law to determine any potential impact on the state’s federal education funding. We will not hesitate to act if students’ civil rights are being violated,” said Dorie Nolt, a spokeswoman for the Education Department.
A transgender student and employee and a lesbian faculty member have also filed a lawsuit against the university system, Gov. Pat McCrory and others, challenging the law.
Students across the state have protested the law, some taking to the streets to express their displeasure. According to the News & Observer, nearly 1,000 protestors gathered in Chapel Hill last week:
UNC students Mia Cole, Rose Jackson and Wade Doorey said they attended the rally to express their disappointment with a law that goes beyond who can use the restroom by also restricting how local governments can protect and lead their communities. It is shameful that their trans friends now live in a state where they know they are not welcome, Cole said.
People can effect change if they speak out, they said. McCrory and others will have to change if they want to be re-elected this year, Jackson said.
“When (McCrory) first came into office, he had the Moral Monday protests and the NAACP,” Doorey said. The first outrageous thing he did was the repeal of the Racial Justice Act, which pissed a lot of people off, and I see this as a continuation of undoing of what civil rights has done for the state.”
The backlash against North Carolina’s law banning anti-discrimination ordinances kept going unabated Friday, as Bruce Springsteen announced that he was canceling a weekend show in the state in solidarity with those protesting the bill.