Play Live Radio
Next Up:
0:00 0:00
Available On Air Stations

North Carolina Reaches Settlement In Long Battle Over Bathrooms And Gender Identity

A gender-neutral sign is posted outside a bathrooms at a restaurant in Durham, N.C. Many North Carolina businesses put gender-neutral signs on toilets after the "bathroom bill" was passed.
Sara D. Davis
Getty Images
A gender-neutral sign is posted outside a bathrooms at a restaurant in Durham, N.C. Many North Carolina businesses put gender-neutral signs on toilets after the "bathroom bill" was passed.

Updated at 4 p.m. ET

A federal judge in North Carolina has approved a consent decree that enshrines the right of transgender individuals to use bathrooms that match their gender identities in North Carolina public buildings.

The agreement was reached between senior state officials and the plaintiffs, led by a transgender man named Joaquin Carcaño. The judge said the parties agree that nothing in a controversial state law "can be construed by the Executive Branch Defendants to prevent transgender people from lawfully using public facilities in accordance with their gender identity."

"After so many years of managing the anxiety of HB 2 and fighting so hard, I am relieved that we finally have a court order to protect transgender people from being punished under these laws," said Carcaño.

The settlement also states that any outstanding legal claims against the state officials by the plaintiffs, including the American Civil Liberties Union of North Carolina, are now dismissed.

"We are thrilled to obtain some clarity and relief for transgender North Carolinians who have been suffering under HB 2 and HB 142 for years. While this part of the court fight may be ending, so much urgent work remains as long as people who are LGBTQ are denied basic protections from violence and discrimination simply because of who they are," said Irena Como, acting legal director of the ACLU of North Carolina.

Lawmakers passed the original "bathroom bill," HB 2, in 2016 under Republican Gov. Pat McCrory. It required that public agencies clearly indicate that multiple occupancy restrooms, showers and changing areas in their buildings must be used according to the sex listed on a person's birth certificate.

The bill drew intense backlash. That included pullouts from major businesses that, according to an estimate from The Associated Press, could have cost the statesome $3.76 billion over the course of 12 years.

In 2017, the newly elected Democratic Gov. Roy Cooper repealed major portions of it with a new bill, HB 142.

However, as NPR has reported, the updated law remained controversial with rights advocates because it left state legislators in charge of policy on public restrooms. And like the preceding bill, it also blocked "local jurisdictions from passing anti-discrimination measures protecting LGBT people — but only until 2020, instead of indefinitely."

Carcaño, the case's lead plaintiff, said it "remains devastating" that local jurisdictions can't implement such measures yet. "The fight for full justice will continue."

The North Carolina General Assembly, which passed these bills, opposed the consent decree, according to a court filing. Cooper and several other senior state officials were in favor of the settlement, while the University of North Carolina and its president didn't take a position.

Copyright 2020 NPR. To see more, visit

Merrit Kennedy is a reporter for NPR's News Desk. She covers a broad range of issues, from the latest developments out of the Middle East to science research news.
KUER is listener-supported public radio. Support this work by making a donation today.