January 9, 2017
In North Carolina, the lessons of H.B. 2, last year’s controversial transgender “bathroom bill,” seem clear. The law states, among other things, that transgender people must use bathrooms corresponding to the biological sex on their birth certificates when using public accommodations. The law inspired huge boycotts, cost the state an estimated hundreds of millions of dollars in lost economic growth, drew a lawsuit from the Department of Justice, and was a central cause of Republican ex-Governor Pat McCrory’s defeat in his reelection bid. In late December, an attempt to repeal the law failed amid partisan acrimony—but over how to repeal the bill, not whether to repeal it.
But in several states, legislators have taken a different lesson: They’ve seen what happened in North Carolina and decided that their states need something like it. Lawmakers in Texas, Virginia, and Kentucky have all filed similar bills, reflecting an alternative political calculus on transgender rights. While the language is slightly different across the bills, they share several essential characteristics: They define biological sex based on an individual’s birth certificate, and then say that people must use public accommodations—especially in public schools—corresponding to that sex.