RALEIGH, N.C. — North Carolina Democratic lawmakers unveiled four bills on Tuesday they say are aimed at ensuring LGBTQ residents have greater legal protections.
Most of the legislative package mirrors what was put forward in 2019 although a new addition seeks to eliminate a “panic defense” in criminal cases through which perpetrators of crimes can blame a victim’s sexual orientation or gender identity for violent actions.
House and Senate Democrats also renewed calls for banning gay conversion therapy and fully repealing House Bill 2, the state’s so-called “bathroom bill” that was passed in 2016. HB2 was partially repealed in 2017. North Carolina’s Republican-controlled legislature hasn’t previously shown much interest in advancing proposals similar to the ones Democrats put forward on Tuesday.
But Sen. Natasha Marcus, a Mecklenburg County Democrat, hopes Republicans will rally around a message of ensuring children can avoid mental health risks associated conversion therapy, or the practice of trying to change someone’s sexual orientation or gender identity.
“Conversion therapy causes a lifetime of harm and often results in teen suicide,” Marcus said. “We can’t allow that to happen in North Carolina, and so, I believe that regardless of party, we can come together to protect our kids.”
Equality North Carolina and the Campaign for Southern Equality backed the string of bills. House Bill 449 bars the panic defense, while HB 450 expands nondiscrimination protections for all LGBTQ people in North Carolina. House Bill 451 would completely do away with the bathroom bill passed in 2016, and HB 452 would prohibit conversion therapy.
The groups cited improved public opinion polling and greater public awareness of LGBT issues as factors that could lead to further legislative progress.
“There is a coordinated attack across multiple states and there’s a greater need now than there was two years ago,” said Allison Scott, a transgender woman affiliated with the Campaign which advocates for LGBTQ southerners. “North Carolina would be just one of many states to step up and do this. It wouldn’t even be leading the pack. We’re just asking North Carolina to join the pack.”