RALEIGH, N.C. (AP) — While demonstrations circled North Carolina’s statehouse on Monday, for and against a Republican-backed law curtailing protections for LGBT people and limiting public bathroom access for transgender people, House Democrats filed a repeal bill that stands little chance of passing.
Thousands of Christian conservatives and other supporters of the law known as House Bill 2 gathered on a grassy mall behind the Legislative Building on the opening day of the legislature to praise the mostly Republican legislators and GOP Gov. Pat McCrory for passing the restrictions during a special session last month.
“It took great courage for them to establish this bill,” said Doug Woods, 82, of Raleigh, a rally attendee. “They need to stand firm.”
The law blocks local and state protections for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people and directs which restrooms transgender people can use in public buildings.
Key lawmakers who pushed through the legislation also urged the rally attendees to contact colleagues and urge them to fight off efforts to overturn the law.
“The battle is about to be engaged,” said Rep. Paul Stam, R-Wake, a veteran of North Carolina’s cultural wars, told the crowd.
Earlier Monday, about 200 people gathered on the grounds of the old Capitol building to hear speakers denounce the law. They carried cardboard boxes holding what they said were 180,000 pro-repeal signatures on a petition for delivery to McCrory, whose office sits within the 1840 Capitol building.
“HB2 compounds the discrimination and marginalization of the transgender community, who already have to fight every day for their survival,” said Joaquin Carcano, a transgender man who’s suing over the law. “Our privacy and safety matter too. Our right to feel safe and protected in this world does not infringe on anyone else’s right to the same.”
The head of the state NAACP, the Rev. William Barber, called the law “Hate Bill 2.” He said it affects the poor and minorities as well as the LGBT community, despite conservative efforts to depict it as a law focused on bathroom safety.
“We make a mistake when we call it the ‘bathroom bill,'” he said.
Protesters also planned a mass sit-in inside the Legislative Building later in the afternoon. North Carolina legislators are returning Monday night for their annual work session.
Republican legislative leaders have expressed no interest in overturning the new law. GOP lawmakers have focused their discussion of the law on provisions requiring transgender people to use multi-stall restrooms that align with their gender at birth.
Democratic Rep. Grier Martin of Raleigh, a sponsor of the repeal bill, said the new law has stained North Carolina’s reputation and harmed it economically. Some companies have halted planned expansions because of the law, while many groups have canceled their scheduled conventions in the state.
If the repeal were approved immediately, Martin told reporters, “it would not undo with the swipe of a pen the incredible damage that House Bill 2 has done to our economy. But it would stop the bleeding and put North Carolina back on the path of progress and moving forward.”
While pro-HB 2 forces held their rally, about 20 people opposing the law held a sit-in outside McCrory’s office in the old Capitol to protest, joining arms and singing songs including “We Shall Not Be Moved.”
After two of them delivered a written statement to McCrory’s chief of staff, they were told they wouldn’t be asked to leave. After about an hour, they decided to file out of the building so they could rejoin the larger planned sit-in in the afternoon.
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