University of North Carolina President Margaret Spellings said Tuesday the school system is still working to understand a controversial anti-LGBT bill that was introduced, passed and signed into law last week.
In Spellings' first statement about the Public Facilities Privacy and Security Act, or H.B. 2, she refrained from criticizing the law, but said the university system still has a "commitment to providing a safe, secure and inclusive environment" for everyone in the campus community.
The law established a statewide anti-discrimination policy that excludes protections for gay, lesbian or transgender people, and pre-empted local laws protecting LGBT persons. It also bars public schools from allowing transgender people to use the bathroom of the gender with which they identify.
The American Civil Liberties Union filed a federal lawsuit Monday against Gov. Pat McCrory (R), the attorney general and the UNC system, claiming the new law is discriminatory. UNC is named because the suit contends requiring students and employees of public universities to use only those bathrooms that match the gender on their birth certificates is a violation of the federal gender equity Title IX law.
"I want to underscore UNC’s long-held commitment to making sure that the University of North Carolina and its campuses are welcoming, inclusive and safe places for students, faculty, and staff of all backgrounds, beliefs and identities," Spellings said in a statement Tuesday. "I know that many across the UNC system are concerned about the implications of HB2. This law was passed last week, and since then we’ve been working to consider its full impact on the University community and UNC system operations."
Spellings took over this month as the top executive of the UNC system, which includes all public universities in the state. She was a controversial pick, immediately facing protests from faculty and students who disliked her work with for-profit colleges and for chastising PBS more than a decade ago during her first week in office as U.S. Secretary of Education over the network's plans to air a cartoon featuring same-sex parents.
Shortly after her appointment to UNC was announced in October, Spellings was asked at a press conference about her 2005 criticism of PBS for featuring a gay couple in a children's show. She responded, "I have no comment about those lifestyles. That was a matter of how we use taxpayer dollars, not any particular view that I have on particular groups of people or individuals."
Spellings declined through her office to share whether she personally approves of or has any personal opinion about H.B. 2 when asked by The Huffington Post this week.
Instead, Spellings said in a statement, "We stand ready to work with the Governor and General Assembly as the lawsuit progresses. As we continue to assess the law’s scope, reach, and potential impact, I reiterate our commitment to providing a safe, secure and inclusive environment for the entire University community."
The suit against McCrory, the attorney general and the UNC system was filed on behalf of a transgender employee at UNC-Chapel Hill, a transgender UNC-Greensboro student and a lesbian law professor at North Carolina Central University.
One of the plaintiffs, Peyton Grey McGarry, a 20-year-old transgender UNC Greensboro student who identifies as a man but was born designated as a female, said having to find single-user restrooms would disrupt his ability to attend class. McGarry also noted in the federal complaint he's already using the men's restrooms and locker rooms on campus without incident, and "is unaware of any instance in which any person has complained about his use of the men’s restroom or locker room."
Another plaintiff in the suit, 27-year-old Joaquin Carcaño, notes there are no unisex bathrooms in the building he works in on the Chapel Hill campus, forcing him to leave campus to find a local business to use the restroom.
Other colleges and universities in the state, outside of the UNC system, have been vocal in their opposition to H.B. 2. Though the law only applies to public schools and universities, not private ones, Carol Quillen, president of Davidson College, has tweeted her disapproval from her personal account multiple times.
Duke University said, "we deplore any effort to deny any person the protection of the law because of sexual orientation or gender identity."
Elon University reaffirmed its position that "individuals should use facilities in which they feel most comfortable and align with their gender identity."
Jane K. Fernandes, president of Guilford College, said "we deeply lament the passage of this harmful bill and remain fully committed to affirming the lives and experiences of LGBTQ community members and providing a welcoming and inclusive educational environment for all."