RALEIGH, N.C. — North Carolina’s years-long legal fight over transgender people and bathroom access came to an end Tuesday, when a federal judge approved a settlement that Democratic Gov. Roy Cooper and gay rights groups had proposed.

The settlement says state agencies and universities can’t ban transgender people from using the bathroom of the gender with which they identify. It applies only to public restrooms and similar facilities in state government buildings.

“After so many years of managing the anxiety of HB 2 and fighting so hard, I am relieved that we finally have a court order to protect transgender people from being punished under these laws.” said Joaquin Carcano, a transgender man and University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill employee who is the lead plaintiff in the lawsuit against the state over LGBT discrimination.

After House Bill 2 caused national headlines and boycotts for North Carolina in 2016, Republican lawmakers who had supported it made a deal with new Democratic Gov. Cooper in 2017 to replace it with a new law, which was called House Bill 142.

That replacement law did not fully repeal HB2, although it did notably remove the requirement that people in government buildings must use the bathroom that matches the gender on their birth certificate – a policy which had been called discriminatory against transgender people.

But the challengers in this lawsuit said the replacement law was still too vague. They wanted a federal court to clarify that transgender people in North Carolina can indeed use the bathroom of the gender with which they identify.

Republican lawmakers opposed the lawsuit in court and were able to get some parts of it dismissed – but not the bathroom part – in 2018. And on the bathroom policy, Cooper cooperated with the challengers. The settlement signed Tuesday by federal District Judge Thomas Schroeder made the changes they wanted.

The settlement doesn’t keep legislators from restricting bathroom access through future laws. But it puts new requirements on government agencies and universities that are defendants in the lawsuit. It says: ”The Executive Branch Defendants, in their official capacities, and all successors, officers, and employees are hereby permanently enjoined from applying Section 2 of H.B. 142 to bar, prohibit, block, deter, or impede any transgender individuals from using public facilities under any Executive Branch Defendant’s control or supervision, in accordance with the transgender individual’s gender identity.”

“Using facilities that match one’s gender identity is a basic necessity for full participation in society, and this order’s confirmation that transgender people can do so is an important victory,” said Tara Borelli, an attorney for the gay rights group Lambda Legal, in a press release after the settlement was announced.

The settlement, however, ended only part of the case. According to the ACLU of North Carolina, which represented Carcano and other challengers in the lawsuit, another part of the lawsuit is on hold while the U.S. Supreme Court addresses issues related to workplace discrimination claims by LGBT people.

North Carolina law currently does not have discrimination protections for LGBT people. The state also made it illegal, through both HB2 and then HB 142, for local governments to pass anti-discrimination rules to protect LGBT people.

As a result, the advocacy group Equality NC said in a statement that HB2’s “discriminatory effects” remain in place.

“Saying that no one can stop you from using the restroom is not the same thing as saying that the state will protect your right to use the restroom,” said Ames Simmons, the group’s policy director.

Unless the state legislature repeals both laws, Simmons said, “trans people in North Carolina cannot enjoy the peace of mind that local and state government will have our back when we need it.”

“LGBTQ North Carolinians still lack comprehensive, statewide nondiscrimination protections while on the job, patronizing a business open to the public, or simply going about their daily lives,” said Irena Como, acting legal director for the ACLU of North Carolina.


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