On Thursday, March 24, less than 24 hours after the North Carolina General Assembly passed the now-infamous North Carolina House Bill 2 (HB2) in a one-day special session, more than 100 people gathered in front of the Charlotte-Mecklenburg Government Center holding signs and flags.
They were there to send a message.
The law had struck down all protections set to go into place for LGBT people in Charlotte through an amendment to the city's nondiscrimination ordinance voted on by city council in February. The amendment included protections from things like being refused service in taxis or restaurants due to one's sexual orientation.
One section of the amendment that gained the most attention in the press and on social media would allow transgender people to use the restroom of the gender they identify with — as transgender people already do and have done — without being discriminated against. The law not only stripped those potential protections from LGBT people, but also suppressed any rights of Charlotte or other municipalities to add LGBT protections to their existing nondiscrimination ordinances. It even quietly restricted municipalities from setting their own minimum wage.
On the evening following the passing of HB2, activists gathered by the hundreds in Charlotte, Asheville and in front of Governor Pat McCrory's house in Raleigh to denounce the actions of the NCGA. Speakers in Charlotte promised not only to lead efforts to vote out those state representatives responsible for negating Charlotte's newly passed amendment, but to fight to repeal the law before a new legislature is voted on.
"I am done with the hate," said Erica Lachowtiz, a transgender woman from Charlotte. "I am done watching my brothers and sisters and everyone else get swept under the rug as insignificant because Raleigh says we're insignificant. I refuse to sit idle. We will repeal this and I will fight tooth and nail until we do."
Four days later, an alliance of individuals and organizations threw the first punch in that fight, suing McCrory, Attorney General Roy Cooper III, the University of North Carolina and the UNC Board of Governors for their roles in passing or potentially enforcing HB2. Cooper has stood against HB2 and announced on Tuesday morning that his office would not defend the consitutionality of the law in court.
Plaintiffs in the lawsuit include UNC Greensboro student Payton McGarry, UNC Chapel Hill employee Joaquin Carcano, North Carolina Central University School of Law associate dean and professor Angela Gilmore, the ACLU of North Carolina and Equality North Carolina.
The lawsuit aims to overturn HB2 on grounds that it violates the U.S. Constitution's Fourteenth Amendment and Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972, which judges in similar cases have ruled prohibits discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity.
At a press conference held at the LGBT Center in Raleigh on Monday morning to announce the lawsuit, Simone Bell, southern regional director for Lambda Legal, said her firm will be among those working with the plaintiffs to fight legislation that has "taken the fear of few and stoked the fear of many."
"When Charlotte passed their antidiscrimination bill, they went forward in progress and understanding that there were protections that were needed for a particular group of people," Bell said. "But Governor McCrory and the legislature weren't happy with that so they took it upon themselves to undo the ordinance and undo those ordinances across the state... in other areas that have decided to step up and be on the right side of history. Today, we're letting them know: no, you will not do that to us. You won't do that to our families, you will not do that to our brothers and sisters, you will not do that to the state of North Carolina."
The lawsuit details how the new law will affect people like Carcano, a transgender man who works as a project coordinator at UNC Chapel Hill's Institute for Global Health and Infectious Disease. Carcano has been diagnosed with gender dysphoria, a condition recognized by most major medical and mental health professional groups, treatment for which includes living one's life consistent with one's gender identity.
Carcano has undergone hormone treatment as recommended and prescribed by a physician since May 2015. His friends, family and coworkers recognize him as a male. His hormone treatment has facilitated the growth of facial hair and he has used the male bathroom without incident for about half a year. With the passing of HB2, Carcano will be forced to leave campus and find a local business where he is allowed to use the restroom every time he needs to.
The lawsuit also describes the case of McGarry, a transgender male who was diagnosed with gender dysphoria. McGarry is in a fraternity at UNC Greensboro and all of McGarry's fraternity brothers are aware that he is transgender and have no issue with his use of men's restrooms and locker rooms, which he has used without incident for the past year and a half.
"Using the women's restroom is not a viable option for Mr. McGarry, just as it would not be viable for non-transgender men to be forced to use the women's restroom," the lawsuit reads.
At Monday's press conference, Bell hailed the bravery of the three individual plaintiffs.
"I stand here with our plaintiffs, who are brave," Bell said. "Not brave because they stand here before you today, but brave because they stand and walk out of their houses everyday being exactly who they were created to be, under fear of retribution, fear of discrimination and even fear of death."
The backlash from the passing of HB2 began almost immediately following McCrory's announcement that he had signed it, with national corporations such as PayPal, the NCAA and Google releasing a flood of statements into the weekend criticizing the bill. Some went further, such as a statement from the NBA implying the league might look into relocating the 2017 All Star Game from Charlotte.
"Business pressure is what's going to make or break this," Luis Rodriguez with Progress NC says. "When companies say, 'We're not setting up shop in North Carolina because of these discriminatory laws,' this is going to make it extremely hard for North Carolina to attract the best and the brightest, and to attract these tech firms and corporations. Diversity is not an easy catchphrase for a lot of corporations; it's something that they're actually committed to."
The story of HB2's rapid trip through the NCGA was picked up by national news outlets, as well, and even inspired a satirical tourism ad for North Carolina released by popular website Funny or Die detailing all the fun homophobes can have in our bigoted state. Officials in San Francisco, Seattle and the state of New York weren't joking, however, when they banned non-essential government-sponsored travel to North Carolina.
McCrory soon went on the defensive. His administration seemingly took the reins of every state department's social media account over the weekend in order to push a press release that claimed to shoot down "myths" being spread about the new bill. Suddenly, the North Carolina Department of Transportation and the state's top environmental agency were tweeting out what media outlets were "missing" about the "common sense privacy law," as proponents have called it.
On Monday morning, Chris Brook, legal director for the ACLU of North Carolina, called the press release "patently false," arguing point by point from the bulleted press release. He pointed out that the thirteenth point of the release, which states that preventing Charlotte from amending its nondiscrimination would not affect the state's ability to recruit companies or create jobs, has already been proven wrong.
"I don't know that we can really have a debate about that," Brook said. "We've seen what's happened in the last five days from employers throughout the state who have reacted with horror at making North Carolina a less hospitable place, as well as a less hospitable place to do business. The facts speak for themselves."
Reporters with WRAL in Raleigh fact-checked each point of the press release and assigned it a "moving violation," the lowest grade possible in its fact checking process.
At an unrelated press event on Monday afternoon, McCrory called out the media for participating in "a very well-coordinated national campaign" to distort the truth and smear North Carolina as a state.
"We have not taken away any rights that currently existed in any city in North Carolina; from Raleigh to Durham to Chapel Hill to Charlotte," McCrory said. "Every city and every corporation has the exact same nondiscrimination policy this week that they had two weeks ago."
Technically, McCrory is right, but only because the amendment passed by Charlotte City Council in February was not set to go into effect until April 1. The law clearly stripped protections from the LGBT community that had been voted on by city council, many new members of which ran on a platform that included enacting these same protections.
Chris Sgro, executive director of Equality N.C., called on the NCGA to repeal HB2 as its first order of business on April 25, when its next normal session starts, although others involved in the lawsuit said they don't expect that to happen.
"HB2 represented sweeping overreach into Charlotte's and other cities' authority to pass common sense protections," Sgro said. "When the general assembly came back in an act of political grandstanding... they put my community, the reputation of our state and many other vital protections on the line because they thought they might win a few extra votes. That was wrong. They exercised terrible governance and now once again the people of North Carolina are paying the price for this terrible behavior. We must defeat this legislation in court and we will."
CORRECTION: A few typos made it through on the original version of this story. The NBA All Star Game being held in Charlotte is in 2017, not 2016. And Equality NC is calling for the bill to be repealed (not appealed) on April 25 (not April 5). Apologies for any misunderstanding.