CHARLOTTE — LGBT students from across the nation are in Charlotte now to learn how to be leaders in their community.
But this year many hesitated to come, because they fear for their safety using public restrooms after the state passed House Bill 2 with its controversial bathroom provision.
James Madison University student leader Rain Garant said he used tactics to avoid using public restrooms while driving through North Carolina for the first time since lawmakers passed HB2.
"My friend who is the same gender they were at birth will check the bathrooms first," he said.
Garant said he also avoided salty foods and drinking too many liquids.
"That dictates how much water I order, whether I drink it," Garant said. "I was just really afraid somebody might say something."
That same fear made some university leaders question whether to send their students to Charlotte for Camp Pride.
The annual leadership academy teaches LGBT activists how to push for change on campus. To attend this year, they would have to face the controversial bathroom provision that requires people to use restrooms in government buildings, schools and universities that match their gender of birth.
"I had to have him talk to the people here and reassure I was going to be safe coming here," said Nat Veiga, a student leader at the University of Delaware.
Supporters of the law argue that allowing transgender individuals to use the bathroom of their choice is also a safety concern. Lawmakers ended their session with the law intact.
Organizers of Camp Pride believe HB2 may have cut conference attendance by 31 percent this year. The ones who decided to take the risk were comforted after learning the University of North Carolina-Charlotte would not uphold the law.
They were also pleased to learn the Cone Center, where the conference is being held, has multiple gender-neutral bathrooms so students can attend and enjoy the conference without worrying about breaking the law.
The students said they would rather use their energy to make new friends and fight for their rights.
"(Transgender) people are more than just people who have to pee," student activist Juniper Cordova-Goff said.
This year marks the 10th annual Camp Pride. Organizers said the attendance has risen every year until now.
Cox Media Group