RALEIGH, N.C. ― It’s 9:55 p.m. on Election Day, and the gubernatorial race between Gov. Pat McCrory (R) and North Carolina Attorney General Roy Cooper (D) is effectively tied.
The crowd at the Raleigh LGBTQ Center is waiting for the results. They sigh, boo and scream out as the returns pop up on a television screen. “Jesus fucking Christ!” yells one woman, banging her hands against her thighs.
Many of the people attending this watch party are members of, or allies to, North Carolina’s LGBTQ community. No one is particularly fond of McCrory.
In March, the governor signed HB 2, a law barring local governments from passing any anti-discrimination protections for lesbian, gay and transgender people. The law also mandates that individuals can only use restrooms that correspond to the sex on their birth certificates. The law has cost the state hundreds of millions of dollars in revenue and even more in reputation. Later that month, McCrory added protections for sexual orientation and gender identity with an executive order, but did not reverse the bathroom portion of the bill. He dug in even further on the campaign trail, insisting that “the left” had brought the “radical concept” of gender identity to his state.
The governor’s race became a referendum on HB2 in many ways, with Cooper and McCrory fighting over it throughout the campaign.
By 11:22 p.m. on election night, the party at the LGBT center was dying down. It didn’t look like either Cooper or McCrory would be declared the winner that day.
“Holy shit,” said one of the few remaining spectators as the TV screen showed McCrory still in the lead.
Two weeks later, the party attendees are still waiting.
McCrory still hasn’t conceded the election to his Cooper, although Cooper was ahead by 6,600 votes as of Sunday. And a winner may not be declared anytime soon ― McCrory’s campaign announced on Tuesday that it would officially file for a statewide recount.
More than 60,000 provisional and absentee ballots hadn’t been counted as of Sunday, and the state GOP is trying to protest the tallies in half of the state’s 100 counties by claiming that McCrory is trailing because of fraud and technical difficulties. The McCrory campaign expressed specific concerns about early votes tallied in Durham County, a Democratic stronghold that put Cooper ahead after 90,000 votes were submitted late on Election Day.
HB2 activated advocacy groups like Equality NC, Campus Pride, the Human Rights Campaign and the American Civil Liberties Union to try to oust McCrory, and the groups have asked state lawmakers to repeal the law.
But James Miller, the executive director of the Raleigh LGBTQ Center, doesn’t think HB2 will be repealed even if McCrory leaves office.
“Just because the governor is gone doesn’t mean with have an immediate path to repeal,” he said. “It will take much more energy than flipping a governor.”
For Carla Merritt, a transgender woman attending the watch party, the bill and the prospect of another McCrory term is frightening. She said she has overheard people saying they would cut a trans woman’s throat if they were to see her in the restroom.
“It’s just a good thing that I wasn’t identified by those people,” she said.
The most common defense supporters of HB2 have offered is also the most transphobic. State lawmakers claim the law protects women and children from male sexual predators who wouldn’t rule out dressing in women’s clothing and entering a women’s bathroom with the intention of assaulting someone.
McCrory seemed to echo this sentiment in March, saying that the Charlotte ordinance protecting the rights of trans people ― the backlash to which prompted the state-level bill ― was “government overreach forcing businesses to allow men to be in women’s or girls’ restroom or shower facilities.”
“We’re throwing away basic etiquette,” he said. “I wonder if your daughter or son was showering and all of a sudden a man walks into the locker room and says, ‘This is what I am.’ Would you want that for your child?”
But Kellie Burris, who runs the women’s group at the center, said she has transgender friends who have been beaten for using the bathrooms that coordinate with the sex on their birth certificate.
“Trans people get raped,” she said. “They get beaten and they get murdered.”
There are many personal accounts and studies about trans people being attacked in bathrooms, but no known reports of a trans person attacking anyone else. And as many transgender rights advocates point out, most trans people don’t want to bring attention to themselves in the bathroom because they’re afraid of being harassed.
“HB2 really is a wink toward the religious conservatives who want to help steer this state’s direction,” Merritt said. “HB2 is all about us, people like myself, and he’s really fortunate he hasn’t gotten anyone killed yet.”
As 11:30 p.m. rolls around on election night, people continue filing out of the center with their heads hanging. Merritt takes a deep breath and asks them for the latest results. She sighs again when they reply.
“If McCrory wins,” she says, “it’s horrible for us.”