On Friday, the second day of Attorney General Jeff Sessions's tenure, the Department of Justice sent an unmistakable signal that it was no longer interested in protecting transgender students from discrimination. In a brief, the DOJ announced that it wouldn't fight a federal judge's injunction halting an Obama administration order that included transgender students in Title IX protections; more important, the Trump administration rejected the idea that transgender students deserve those protections at all.
It wasn't unexpected: President Trump and Vice President Pence had promised to do this during the campaign. Still, the DOJ's decision might seem like a clear blow to the many North Carolinians who've taken to the streets in protest of HB 2.
But there's a wrinkle. Gavin Grimm, a seventeen-year-old Virginia high school student who was born female but identifies as male, sued the Gloucester County School Board in 2015, arguing that a policy that bars him from the boys' bathroom violated Title IX. His case is currently on the Supreme Court's docket, with oral arguments scheduled for late March. If the court sides with him, it would render an HB 2 repeal moot.
Opponents of HB 2 and similar laws, including Human Rights Campaign president Chad Griffin, have condemned the Justice Department's latest move and contend the protections granted under the Constitution entitle transgender students to "the full protection ... of federal nondiscrimination laws. It is heartbreaking and wrong that the agency tasked with enforcing civil rights laws would instead work to subvert them for political interests," Griffin said in a statement. "President Trump must immediately reverse course and direct the DOJ to uphold the guidance protecting transgender students."
Good luck with that.
Speaking of HB 2, on Thursday, Durham Mayor Bill Bell tried to forge a compromise to help get it repealed, offering a promise not to enact a citywide nondiscrimination ordinance until the Supreme Court decides Grimm's case. (HB 2, of course, did much more than govern bathroom usage; it also forbade municipalities from enacting antidiscrimination and local wage ordinances.)
This sort of thing had been the sticky wicket that derailed the HB 2 repeal late last year; while Charlotte repealed its antidiscrimination ordinance, GOP lawmakers worried that, with HB 2 gone, other cities would pass antidiscrimination ordinances. (Indeed, officials in Carrboro, Durham, and Wake County suggested to the INDY that they'd be willing to explore such a step.) So Republicans attached to the repeal a moratorium on new antidiscrimination ordinances. Democrats balked. The repeal died.
"What I'm trying to do is to relieve some pressure now by getting [HB 2] off the books, allowing some time to see what happens in the next stage, which is the Supreme Court, and also freeing up the state from these economic pressures that we're under because HB 2 is on the books," Bell said at the council work session last week.
But the council split, and Bell's motion failed. "I can't support a measure that would remove the paper version of House Bill 2 while leaving it still effectively the law of the land, and that's what this measure asks us to do is to leave the force of House Bill 2 in effect on this community while removing it on paper to allow the economic benefits to flow," said council member Charlie Reece.*This story originally identified Gavin Grimm as being from New Jersey. He is from Virginia.