Top lawmaker: North Carolina rights law will stay in place

FILE This Tuesday Aug. 25, 2015 file photo shows Gavin Grimm on his front porch during an interview at his home in Gloucester, Va. A U.S. appeals court has overturned a policy barring a transgender student from using the boys' restrooms at his Virginia high school. A three-judge panel of the 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled Tuesday, April 19, 2016 that the Gloucester County School Board policy is discriminatory. A federal judge had earlier rejected Grimm's sex discrimination claim. (AP Photo/Steve Helber)

RALEIGH, N.C. (AP) — A North Carolina legislative leader said Wednesday he doesn’t see the need to repeal or revise a law that limits protections for the LGBT community.

At a news conference on the upcoming legislative session, state Senate leader Phil Berger referred to the law as “our commonsense bathroom safety bill” for its measures governing transgender bathroom access in many public buildings.

Gender identity and sexual orientation are also excluded from statewide workplace and public accommodation protections in the law, which triggered widespread criticism from equality advocates and business leaders nationwide.

But Berger, a Republican, said he doesn’t think the law enacted in March needs to be altered when lawmakers return next week.

“I don’t know that I would at any point be ready to say we are going to make any changes. I just don’t see the need for it,” he said.

Gov. Pat McCrory, also a Republican, has urged lawmakers to restore the ability to use state law to file workplace discrimination lawsuits, which was disallowed by the legislation.

Asked multiple times for his response to McCrory’s request, Berger said simply: “We will listen to the governor’s proposal.”

The law also requires transgender people to use bathrooms corresponding to the gender on their birth certificate in state government buildings as well as public schools and universities. Supporters say the law protects privacy and safety in public bathrooms.

Berger’s remarks came a day after a federal appeals court sided with a transgender student who argued that his Virginia school district violated federal education discrimination laws by forbidding him from using the boys’ bathroom. The appeals court’s territory includes North Carolina.

The ruling threatens the provision of the North Carolina law concerning transgender bathroom access in public schools and universities.

“While the decision is troubling, it is not the last word on this issue,” Berger said.

McCrory said he’s seeking an evaluation from state lawyers whether public schools can continue to implement the law while the Virginia defendants decide whether to appeal.

Provisions of North Carolina law that fall outside the federal law known as Title IX — such as those regarding discrimination in workplaces, hotels and restaurants — wouldn’t be directly affected by Tuesday’s ruling, experts said.

Also this week, the British government issued a travel advice update that LGBT citizens pay special attention when traveling to North Carolina and Mississippi.

“The US is an extremely diverse society and attitudes towards LGBT people differ hugely across the country,” said the advisory posted on a British government website Tuesday. “LGBT travellers may be affected by legislation passed recently in the states of North Carolina and Mississippi.”

Public rebukes of the law have included concert cancellations by such acts as Pearl Jam and Bruce Springsteen, and condemnation by scores of business leaders. Local tourism boards cited millions of dollars in lost economic impact because of cancelled conventions and business meetings.

In the Virginia case, a three-judge panel of the appeals court ruled 2-1 in favor of Gavin Grimm’s argument that the Gloucester County School Board’s policy violated Title IX.

Grimm was born female but identifies as male. He was allowed to use the boys’ restrooms at the school for several weeks in 2014. But after some parents complained, the school board adopted a policy requiring students to use either the restroom that corresponds with their biological gender or a private, single-stall restroom.

Last month in North Carolina, a transgender student and employee in the state’s university system filed a lawsuit arguing that the new law violated Title IX. Maxine Eichner, a law professor at the University of North Carolina who’s not involved in the case, said the plaintiffs could use Tuesday’s ruling to win an injunction blocking the law’s provisions on bathroom access in public schools.

Chris Brook, an attorney with the American Civil Liberties Union guiding legal challenges to the North Carolina law, declined to discuss his next moves in detail. Yet he said the appeals court’s decision confirms one their key argument that the North Carolina law violates Title IX.

“If you are a recipient of federal education funds you cannot discriminate,” he said.

___

Associated Press writer Emery P. Dalesio in Raleigh contributed to this report.

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