By Colleen Jenkins
WINSTON-SALEM, N.C. (Reuters) - A U.S. judge will hear arguments on Monday to stop North Carolina from enforcing a state law barring transgender people from using bathrooms in government buildings and public schools that correspond with their gender identity.
The state in March became the first in the country to restrict access to publicly-operated, single-sex restrooms and changing facilities to the gender on a birth certificate rather than the gender with which someone identifies.
The move fueled a national debate about bathrooms and transgender rights and made North Carolina a target for boycotts by companies, musicians and the National Basketball Association, which pulled its 2017 All-Star Game from Charlotte.
Critics of the measure, known as House Bill 2 or HB 2, will argue to U.S. District Court Judge Thomas Schroeder in Winston-Salem that it is stigmatizing and leaves transgender people vulnerable to harassment and violence.
“We hope that this discriminatory law’s days are numbered,” advocacy groups including the American Civil Liberties Union and Lambda Legal said in a statement ahead of the hearing, where they will seek a preliminary injunction.
Lawyers for Republican Governor Pat McCrory, who signed the law and now is a defendant in the ACLU’s lawsuit, said HB 2 should stay in effect while the case proceeds. A trial is set to begin on Nov. 14.
“Any harm to plaintiffs due to lack of access to restrooms designated for the opposite sex certainly cannot outweigh the privacy and safety risks presented to the public,” McCrory’s lawyers said in a court filing opposing an injunction.
The governor’s office did not comment ahead of the hearing.
North Carolina’s Republican-led legislature passed HB 2 during a one-day special session called after Charlotte, the state’s largest city, adopted a nondiscrimination ordinance allowing transgender people to use bathrooms consistent with their gender identity.
The state law blocks such access in government-owned bathrooms but permits private businesses to set their own policies.
Bathrooms on the University of North Carolina’s 17 campuses are affected by the law. UNC President Margaret Spellings said she was eager for a resolution to the suit, which also named the university system as a defendant.
“As I have said all along, the University is caught in the middle of an apparent conflict between state law (HB2) and federal guidance that the University did not create,” she said in a statement.