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N.C.'s 'Bathroom Law' Energizes Voters On Both Sides Of The Issue


The Justice Department has given the state of North Carolina until today to decide about a controversial new law. That law bans municipalities from passing ordinances that protect LGBT people from workplace discrimination. What's gotten the most attention is a requirement that schools and government offices restrict bathrooms to the gender a person is born with. That is, transgender people cannot use the bathroom for the gender they identify with.


The federal government says this law violates the Civil Rights Act. But Republican leaders in North Carolina have repeatedly said they won't alter it and hope it will help them in this year's elections. From member station WUNC, Jeff Tiberii has more.

JEFF TIBERII, BYLINE: At North Carolina beaches there are warning signs about what to do if caught in a rip current - swim with the momentum, then parallel to the shore and tread water if possible. Gov. Pat McCrory grew up going to these beaches. And for the past few weeks, he has been in a political rip current stemming from the new law over bathroom access. On Saturday, the governor spoke at the State Republican Convention, connecting his childhood with the current situation.


PAT MCCRORY: If the principal called you into the office, you said yes, sir, or no, sir. And oh, yeah, there was no confusion about restrooms in North Carolina in 1967.

TIBERII: The political topic here in recent weeks has been House Bill 2, the new law mandating people use the bathroom that aligns with the sex listed on their birth certificate. The Justice Department wrote the governor last week warning that House Bill 2 discriminates against people who are transgender and violates the Civil Rights Act.

Such a violation could threaten billions of dollars in federal funding. State lawmakers have vowed not to take action by today's deadline, meaning the Justice Department could file its own suit or join a federal challenge filed in March. As for consequences at the ballot box this November, McCrory snuck out a service door on Saturday as reporters chased after him. GOP Congressman Mark Meadows did chat with the media and give his take.


MARK MEADOWS: Well, it will affect down ballot. I can tell you in my district it's overwhelmingly that they want the governor to stand firm. And that's Democrats and Republicans.

TIBERII: It's either a commonsense measure or rooted in ignorance, depending on whom you ask. House Bill 2 also removes the ability to sue in state court over discrimination and prevents local governments from enacting non-discrimination policies. Some Republicans say the issue is being blown out of proportion. Pat Batko is with the Wake County Republican Party.

PAT BATKO: In the scheme of things, that is not a major concern. The biggest are the things like the economy or health care, maybe border security.

DALE FOLWELL: My focus is to give people a reason to vote for me.

TIBERII: Republican Dale Folwell is a candidate for state treasurer.

FOLWELL: The state treasurer's race is about green. It's not about East, West, Democrat, Republican, Conservative, Liberal. It's about how to manage and operate a $100 billion operation.

TIBERII: Yet, some of the people who come out to vote this fall will do so because of the contentious law. While the conservative base has rallied, the law has also energized opponents. At least two corporations have decided not to expand here. Well-known performers have canceled gigs. And even some elected officials have said this has damaged the state's economy and reputation. And there's no consensus on which party this benefits the most. Art Pope is a major Republican political operative in the state. At the party convention this weekend, he spoke about what it might mean at the polls.

ART POPE: I don't know. I mean, it's obviously very much moving the issue. And I'm not sure how all is going to shake out in the end.

TIBERII: And in the end, there's a lot at stake. Gov. McCrory faces a close re-election battle. That contest could be swayed by this controversy as well as the presidential race. For NPR News, I'm Jeff Tiberii in Greensboro, N.C. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Jeff Tiberii first started posing questions to strangers after dinner at La Cantina Italiana, in Massachusetts, when he was two-years-old. Jeff grew up in Wayland, Ma., an avid fan of the Boston Celtics, and took summer vacations to Acadia National Park (ME) with his family. He graduated from the S.I. Newhouse School of Public Communications at Syracuse University with a degree in Broadcast Journalism, and moved to North Carolina in 2006. His experience with NPR member stations WAER (Syracuse), WFDD (Winston-Salem) and now WUNC, dates back 15 years.