Marking a pivotal milestone in the so-called "restroom wars," rights attorneys are appearing in federal court in Winston-Salem on Monday to argue that North Carolina's discriminatory bathroom ordinance is a dangerous violation of constitutional law and thus should be halted until an upcoming trial is concluded.
Plaintiffs in the case include a half-dozen transgender North Carolina residents, who are being represented by attorneys with the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), the ACLU of North Carolina, and Lambda Legal as well as Paul Smith, a lawyer from the law firm of Jenner & Block.
The team, led by Smith, is arguing that the anti-LGBTQ law known as HB2, which requires transgender people in all public buildings to use restrooms that accord with the gender on their birth certificate, regardless of their gender identity, is in violation of federal statutory and constitutional law. Or, as James Esseks, director of the ACLU's LGBT & HIV Project wrote Monday, "simply put, the law bars transgender people from participation in public life."
Lead plaintiff Joaquin Carcaño, a project coordinator at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, says he is unable to use a restroom while at work without causing "consternation" and "undermining his very identity." The group is seeking a preliminary injunction on implementation of the ordinance until the November 14 trial.
"The idea that trans people should be shamed into self-exile or government imposed banishment from public life is what teaches us all — trans and non-trans — that it is okay to mock, dehumanize and in too many cases, hurt and even kill trans people."
—Chase Strangio, ACLU
In a blog post on Monday, ACLU attorney Chase Strangio, who is part of the legal team as well as a transgender person, explained why the law is so hateful and dangerous:
Like so many anti-trans laws, policies and messages we are confronted with, HB2 was animated by the lie that the state needed to protect women from men in women’s bathrooms. [...]
When pushed on the reality that there are no public safety risks to extending legal protections to trans people, anti-trans lawmakers have made clear that the core of the problem is just the very existence of trans people in single-sex spaces. There is, they contend, a privacy interest for non-transgender people in not seeing and not being seen by a trans person. It is that premise that is so dangerous.
The idea that trans people should be shamed into self-exile or government imposed banishment from public life is what teaches us all — trans and non-trans — that it is okay to mock, dehumanize and in too many cases, hurt and even kill trans people.
Signed into law in March by Republican Governor Pat McCrory, the so-called "hate bill" prompted similar discriminatory policies in Mississippi, Texas, and elsewhere, while also sparking widespread protests and rebuke, including from the Obama administration.
McCrory and other GOP leaders are defending the bill, but as WNCN reports, the effort does not have the support of Attorney General Roy Cooper, who said the bill has cost the state jobs and "millions of dollars."
But Esseks reasoned that the "restroom debates are not just a battleground for the LGBT movement, they are an opportunity."
"[W]e must engage America about restrooms if we’re going to make progress on protecting transgender people from discrimination. This is our chance to explain to the country who transgender people are, why restroom restrictions bar them from full participation in public life, and how no privacy or safety interests are violated in the process," he wrote. "That’s where Joaquín and his fellow plaintiffs come in—they can humanize this issue and help people get the problem."
However, the Charlotte Observer warned on Monday that the judge overseeing the case, U.S. District Judge Thomas D. Schroeder, is an appointee of President George W. Bush who formerly represented tobacco companies and recently sided with the state GOP over the discriminatory (and now-defunct) voter ID law.
Equality Case Files is providing Twitter updates on Monday's court hearing.