RALEIGH, N.C. — Gay rights advocates and their supporters at the legislature said Thursday that expanding antidiscrimination laws and repealing remnants of the North Carolina "bathroom bill" will make clear that LGBT people in the state aren't second-class citizens.
Democratic lawmakers unveiled three new pieces of House legislation, one of which also would prohibit so-called "conversion therapy" for minors. It would discipline state-licensed counselors, psychiatrists and psychologists who engage in professional work to alter the sexual orientation of someone under age 18 or an adult with a disability.
"We believe that whether you are buying a home, choosing a school or accepting a job, you should never feel disrespected because of who you are or who you love," said Sen. Terry Van Duyn, a Buncombe County Democrat at a news conference. "It is time that we turn the page on discrimination in North Carolina and it is time to make it clear that we welcome everyone."
Fifteen states and the District of Columbia already have laws designed to protect children from conversion therapy. Equality North Carolina and the Campaign for Southern Equality, which also began a formal joint initiative Thursday to prohibit the practice, said it can include electroshock treatments and sleep deprivation techniques not based on science.
The measure seeks to eliminate the "ugly myth that we can and should be changed," said Allison Scott, a transgender woman with the Campaign for Southern Equality. The bill "would send a message to all LGBTQ young people that we see them, we support them and we are here to ensure they're safe and affirmed."
Republicans, which hold majorities in the House and Senate, have been less open to legislation expanding rights for LGBT residents. But the GOP no longer has veto-proof control, as it did when the legislature approved House Bill 2 in 2016. That now provides more negotiation tools for Democratic Gov. Roy Cooper, who has said his long-term goal is a statewide nondiscrimination law.
One of the bills filed Thursday would expand protections to LGBT people and several other new classes on matters of housing, employment, insurance and public accommodations.
HB2, the so-called "bathroom bill," prevented local governments from approving LGBT antidiscrimination ordinances and directed transgender people to use public bathrooms that match the gender on their birth certificates. The law created an international backlash, causing corporations to reconsider business expansion in the state and sporting events and artists to cancel tournaments and concerts.
The General Assembly and Cooper approved a 2017 law repealing portions of the 2016 measure but keeping in place some restrictions in new forms, such as leaving control over bathroom policies in government buildings with state lawmakers. The 2017 law also prevents local governments from adopting or changing ordinances regulating private employment or public accommodations, but the prohibition expires in December 2020. Another of Thursday's bills repeals the entire 2017 law, so local governments could approve ordinances again.
Tami Fitzgerald with the North Carolina Values Coalition, which supported HB2, said Thursday's bills promote divisiveness and threaten "the right to free speech, the right to practice our religious beliefs without fear of government interference or retribution (and) the right as parents to oversee the upbringing of our own children."
Support for these bills in the General Assembly may grow with more LGBT lawmakers in Raleigh. Rep. Marcia Morey of Durham County said she had not discussed publicly as a legislator about being a lesbian until Thursday's Legislative Building news conference.
A District Court judge before joining the House in 2017, Morey recalled "listening to cases affording people's rights, when my rights couldn't be afforded and the hypocrisy of that."
"We keep talking about this community, well the community is here, too, and it matters to respect everyone," Morey said.