UNCW chancellor: ‘Obligations’ to follow HB2 won’t trump campus inclusion

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A small group of HB2 protesters show up at UNCW's chancellor installation ceremony earlier this month. Chancellor Sartarelli says the campus will remain focused on its existing inclusion and nondiscrimination policies. Photo by Hilary Snow.
A small group of HB2 protesters show up at UNCW’s chancellor installation ceremony earlier this month. Chancellor Vito Sartarelli says the campus will remain focused on its existing inclusion and nondiscrimination policies. Photo by Hilary Snow.

UNC-Wilmington is falling in line with North Carolina campuses to designate bathrooms as single-sex after the state university system announced it would abide by the new law.

Chancellor Zito Sartarelli sent a message to Seahawk students and employees last week to address UNCW’s “obligations” under House Bill 2, while offering a reassurance that the local college would maintain its inclusive practices.

Now commonly referred to as “the bathroom bill,” the Public Facilities Privacy and Security Act supersedes a policy enacted by Charlotte city leaders that allowed transgender people to use the bathroom of the gender with which they identify. As mandated by the new law, ratified on March 23, a person can only use public bathrooms – including those in schools and UNC-system colleges – that match the gender listed on his or her birth certificate.

The law also strips local governments of the ability to raise minimum wage and limits options for employees filing claims of discrimination by requiring they be made only at the federal level. It does not, however, limit public institutions from enacting their own set of policies for employees.

Sartarelli’s memo was in response to one sent April 5 by Margaret Spellings, head of the University of North Carolina system to leaders of each of the state’s 17 public universities.

Addressing compliance under House Bill 2, Spellings said universities “must require every multiple-occupancy bathroom and changing facility to be designated for and used only by persons based on their biological sex.”

To meet that requirement, Spellings said campuses should post signs that such bathrooms are single-sex use only while also considering providing information about the locations of single-occupancy facilities.

Spellings acknowledges the federal lawsuit filed last month against the UNC system, Gov. Pat McCrory and Attorney General Roy Cooper by three advocacy groups on behalf of an openly gay North Carolina professor, a transgender university employee and a transgender student.

The suit alleges House Bill 2 violates equal protection under the law and discriminates on the basis of sex. Although Cooper is named as a defendant, Spelling notes in her letter that Cooper has already said he will not represent the other defendants.

“The [university system] will work with the Attorney General’s office to make arrangements for counsel in the lawsuit,” Spellings said. “Like all public agencies, the university is required to fulfill its obligations under the law unless or until the court directs otherwise.”

Reiterating that requirement, Sartarelli also tells Seahawks he realizes a “number of questions remain to be answered.” Although the impact of House Bill 2 on state campuses is not yet entirely clear, he said students and employees should stay focused on the fact that UNCW will not revise its existing nondiscrimination policies.

“UNCW will continue to be a campus devoted to inclusion, and the safety and well-being of our employees, students and guests,” he said. “I have appreciated the feedback I’ve received on campus…but more so I appreciate the opportunities you’ve given me to respond to your questions and concerns. These are difficult topics to discuss, but…we can either put our heads in the sand and choose to ignore discomfort and unease, or we can engage in a dialogue that can only bring about increased awareness and acceptance of the diversity that helps make us who we are as a community.”

Sartarelli’s call for conversation comes in the midst of continued debate between both sides and protests and boycotts from opponents at home and around the nation.

This week, two advocacy groups working together against the legislation – the Human Rights Campaign and Equality NC – released the names of 30 corporations who recently joined with more than 100 others, including Starbucks, TDBank, Hilton and Kellogg’s, to call for a repeal. GE, whose Hitachi Nuclear Energy plant is located in Wilmington, Whole Foods and PNC Financial are among the newly vocal businesses urging an end to House Bill 2.

High-ranking members of the film industry has spoken out, as well, including producer and director Rob Reiner, who has said he won’t shoot another project in North Carolina until the law is repealed.

And Friday, rock icon Bruce Springsteen canceled a concert set for Sunday in Greensboro. On his website, Springsteen wrote that the House Bill 2 “dictates which bathrooms transgender people are permitted to use” and “also attacks the rights of LGBT citizens to sue when their human rights are violated in the workplace.”

He called the measure an attempt to reverse social advances by “people who cannot stand the progress our country has made in recognizing the human rights of all of our citizens.” Noting the growing outcry, he said he felt compelled to stand with those “freedom fighters.”

“Some things are more important than a rock show and this fight against prejudice and bigotry — which is happening as I write — is one of them,” he said. “It is the strongest means I have for raising my voice in opposition to those who continue to push us backwards instead of forwards.”

The NAACP has told lawmakers to strike down the law before the next legislative session begins on April 25, and District 18 Rep. Susi Hamilton said in an earlier interview that she and two fellow Democrats are drafting a repeal bill to present during that upcoming session.

Hilary Snow is a reporter at Port City. Reach her at hilary.s@portcitydaily.com.

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