UNC President’s Compliance With Anti-LGBT Law Enrages Students Across North Carolina

Students and faculty occupy the administrative building at Appalachian State University. CREDIT: TWITTER/@CSELIVE
Students and faculty occupy the administrative building at Appalachian State University. CREDIT: TWITTER/@CSELIVE

North Carolina’s sweeping anti-LGBT law, HB2, has hit the state’s public university system, and the students are not happy about it. Across the various campuses, students and faculty have been holding a variety of protests and occupations demanding better by their transgender classmates and colleagues.

Earlier this week, University of North Carolina President Margaret Spellings, whose anti-LGBT reputation precedes her, issued a memo to the chancellors explaining that the university system would be complying with HB2.

“University institutions must require every multiple-occupancy bathroom andchanging facility to be designated for and used only by persons based on their biologicalsex,” the memo instructed. This is despite the fact that imposing such discrimination against transgender members of the university community would violate federal law — Title VII for faculty and staff and Title IX for students.

Spellings did note, however, that “the Act does not contain provisions concerning enforcement of the bathroom and changing facility requirements,” which seems to suggest that if transgender individuals violate the law by using the bathroom that matches their gender identity, the university will refuse to take any action against them. The law also doesn’t force the universities to overturn their nondiscrimination protections on the basis of gender identity or expression.

Because Spellings was on the UNC Pembroke campus Friday, students protested outside the building where she was holding meetings, demanding the doors be unlocked:

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But they weren’t alone. Students at UNC Wilmington also held a bathroom sit-in Friday in protest of HB2:

These follow similar protests on Thursday at other campuses. Students at UNC Charlotte held a protest where they collected signatures for a petition demanding their chancellor stand up to Spellings’ acquiescence to HB2:

Chancellor Philip L. Dubois actually responded to that petition in a statement on Friday, in which he recommitted to the university’s promise to not discriminate on the basis of sexual orientation or gender identity or expression. He also reminded the campus that a map of the campus’ gender-neutral restrooms is available for those who may no longer feel safe in sex-segregated facilities.

At Appalachian State University Thursday, students and faculty rallied across Boone and then joined together to occupy the administration building, similarly calling out their campus’ chancellor to stand up to Spellings and to HB2. When the administration provided no response, dozens of students committed to occupying the building through the evening.

HB2 specifically requires that the restrooms in any state building or public school be designated only for use by people in accordance with the sex marker on their birth certificate. As a result, the UNC system represents one of the biggest impacts of the discriminatory law.

With North Carolina’s Republican leadership unwavering in the face of a national backlash, the protests this week are likely only the beginning.