The LGBTQ community is hurt and angry over North Carolina’s new law known as House Bill 2, the chancellor says she does not agree with the law and the UNC System president has expressed concern about the “chill” its passage has cast over the state and its universities.
President Margaret Spellings said that the law — which among other provisions requires people to use public bathrooms that correspond to their biological gender — applies to the UNC System. She and Chancellor Carol L. Folt said the law will be complied with, but enforcement is not expected. The law also prohibits localities from enacting their own anti-discrimination ordinances.
On April 12, almost three weeks after the law’s passage, Gov. Pat McCrory issued an executive order to address concerns about the legislation. His order affirmed the right of of local governments and the private sector to enact their own policies for employees, but it left intact HB2’s provision that prohibits local governments from enacting anti-discrimination statutes that exceed state law protections. Those state protections, under HB2, do not include those for sexual orientation and gender identity. The part of the law that has attracted the most attention, regarding bathroom access, remained intact. McCrory’s office posted a YouTube video detailing his actions, available at www.youtube.com/user/governorpat.
In an email message to the campus community on April 8, Folt pointed out that Spellings’ memo about how the campuses should interpret and apply the law “was not intended to be an endorsement.”
Folt wrote: “There is no question that many in our LGBTQ community and many others are feeling unwelcome, unsafe and unhappy in the communities where they live and work. We all must work tirelessly to ensure that every member of our community feels welcome and safe and is able to share equally in the benefits of this place where we work, study and live.”
She added that “we do not agree with the Act,” citing the negative impact on LGBTQ people and how adverse reaction from outside the state could cost Carolina dearly.
“It is clear that the impacts to Carolina go well beyond the personal toll. There are implications to us, ranging from conferences that will no longer send delegates to North Carolina and our campus; concerns and a pause among some prospective students, faculty, researchers and staff; current and prospective donors who are signaling a reconsideration of their gifts; grants and relationships with businesses that are now in jeopardy; and more.”
At least one student, one faculty member and one staff member of UNC System schools have joined a lawsuit by the American Civil Liberties Union of North Carolina and other entities challenging the constitutionality of the law.
Spellings, who became system president March 1, sent a memo to chancellors on April 5 that laid out how they were to proceed.
“The Act amends the state’s public policy statement regarding nondiscrimination, and provides that it supersedes nondiscrimination regulations imposed upon employers and public accommodations by political subdivisions of the state, including local governments,” she wrote. “The Act does not limit the ability of local governments and universities to adopt policies with respect to their own employees.”
Three days later, Spellings said in a conference call with reporters: “You all would be mistaken if you thought we were not concerned about the kind of chill this is having as it relates to the climate, the culture, the goodwill that we attempt to engender on university campuses as it relates to free expression, diversity and ability to recruit students and faculty of all types from all over the world.” She told the reporters the law was “hastily drawn, perhaps without fully considering all the implications that were at hand.”
She echoed Folt’s concerns about the potential negative impact on recruiting and academic conferences.
At Chapel Hill, the UNC LGBTQ Center has published a list of 83 single-stall bathrooms on the campus, noting whether they have disabilities accommodations, whether the outer door locks and how the rooms are labeled.
In Folt’s message, she wrote that “we have added and will continue to add public gender-neutral single-use restrooms and changing facilities throughout our campus and we will be adding additional signage.”
Organized protests have taken place on some of the campuses, and on April 11 the system Board of Governors moved its regular meeting later that week from UNC-Asheville to Chapel Hill because the Asheville venue could not accommodate the expected HB2 protest.
Folt and Spellings made a point of stating that the law has no provisions for enforcement.