No Enforcement of Bathroom Law

Margaret Spellings, president of the University of North Carolina, pledges that campuses won't limit access for transgender students while lawsuits are pending.

May 31, 2016
Margaret Spellings

Margaret Spellings, president of the University of North Carolina, pledged that she would not seek to enforce the state's controversial new law barring transgender people from using bathrooms that do not correspond to their legal gender status at birth -- as long as a lawsuit about the law is pending.

Spellings made the statement in an affidavit submitted to a court that is hearing a lawsuit against UNC over the new law. The university is arguing that litigation against it should be stayed while courts hear various suits and counter-suits about the North Carolina law.

The law has a number of provisions, but the one about bathrooms at public institutions -- including schools and colleges -- has led the Obama administration to declare that the state and its public university system are violating Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972. And even if no one expects the administration to cut off federal funds to education institutions in North Carolina, a potential penalty for violation of Title IX, even the threat has captured widespread attention in the state.

"Pending a final judgment in this case, I have no intent to exercise my authority to promulgate any guidelines or regulations that require that transgender students use the restrooms consistent with their biological sex," said Spellings in the statement to the court.

Further, she noted that the university system will continue to enforce an anti-bias policy that covers gender identity. Spellings added that she did not know of any cases of transgender students or employees being barred from using the bathrooms that they want to use. And if she does hear about such an instance, she said she would investigate whether the university's anti-bias policy had been violated.

Spellings has in the past pointed out that the the system's anti-bias policy was not changed by the new law.

But her past statements have suggested that the university system had no choice but to follow the law. In an April memo to campus chancellors, for example, she said: "University institutions must require every multiple-occupancy bathroom and changing facility to be designated for and used by persons based on their biological sex."

Since then, Spellings has argued that the state is caught between conflicting federal and state requirements. And while she has noted that conflict, she has also asserted that UNC must follow state law. "The university, created by the State of North Carolina, has an obligation to adhere to laws duly enacted by the state's General Assembly and governor," she wrote in an early May letter.

In stating, as she did Friday, that the university would not for now follow the requirements of the law, Spellings did what advocates for transgender students have been urging her to do.



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