Two transgender students and one transgender employee in North Carolina can now use bathrooms which match their gender identity, thanks to a federal judge's ruling on Friday.
The decision will allow three trans individuals to choose whichever bathroom they want at their school, and represents a small step toward dismantling the nation's most prohibitive bathroom laws. Earlier this year, North Carolina passed a law mandating that people use the bathrooms in public schools and government buildings which accord with the sex on their birth certificate.
The controversial HB2 law — which flouted federal law about transgender rights and barred local municipalities from adopting anti-LGBT discrimination laws — sparked a national conversation, boycotts and a Justice Department lawsuit accompanied by heartfelt and stern words from the attorney general.
District Judge Thomas D. Schroeder wrote in an 83-page order issued on Friday afternoon that until the legal battle is over, schools in North Carolina cannot enforce HB2. Schroeder acknowledged that the three transgender plaintiffs would suffer "irreparable harm" if they were mandated to use bathrooms according to their biological sex, and noted that single-occupancy bathrooms are far and few between at the University of North Carolina.
Republican proponents of HB2 say that the law is needed to protect women by keeping men out of their bathrooms. Transgender plaintiffs contend that bathrooms are already protected by existing statutes and HB2 is needlessly discriminatory.
Schroeder acknowledged that "North Carolina's peeping and indecent exposure statutes continue to protect the privacy of citizens regardless."
"Defendants argue that separating facility users by biological sex serves prophylactically to avoid the opportunity for sexual predators to prey on persons in vulnerable places," Schroeder wrote. "However, the individual transgender Plaintiffs have used facilities corresponding with their gender identity for over a year without posing a safety threat to anyone."
Chris Brook, the legal director of the American Civil Liberties Union, told Reuters that Friday's ruling was a sign that Schroeder would likely block HB2 entirely when the full case is heard in November's trial.
Joni Worthington, a spokesperson from North Carolina's university system, said in a statement that the administration felt like it had been "caught in the middle of a conflict that we did not create" and was happy that it was headed toward a court resolution.
Much of the legal showdown hinges on whether the DOJ can argue that North Carolina has violated federal law by refusing to accept current, widely held medical standards — that gender identity is separate from biological sex.
Follow Tess Owen on Twitter: @misstessowen