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Seeking end to boycott, North Carolina rescinds transgender bathroom law

(Reuters) - North Carolina on Thursday repealed a law restricting bathroom use for transgender people, hoping to bring back businesses and sports leagues that boycotted the Southern state because they saw the year-old measure as discriminatory.

However, the new law replacing the old one bans cities in the state from passing their own anti-discrimination protections for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) people until 2020, drawing scorn from civil rights advocates and casting doubt on whether boycotting businesses will return to the state.

Democratic Governor Roy Cooper signed the replacement bill into law after the Republican-controlled state Senate and House of Representatives approved it in separate votes in the capital, Raleigh.

The new measure rescinds House Bill 2, the so-called bathroom bill also popularly known as HB 2, which required transgender people to use the bathrooms, changing rooms and showers in state-run buildings that correspond to the sex on their birth certificate rather than their gender identity.

HB 2’s enactment a year ago prompted boycotts that cost the state economy hundreds of millions of dollars. Deutsche Bank AG and PayPal Holdings Inc reversed expansion plans in the state. Entertainers such as Bruce Springsteen and Itzhak Perlman canceled concerts.

In basketball-crazed North Carolina, the withdrawal of National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) tournament games and the National Basketball Association All-Star game, which had been awarded to Charlotte, reverberated throughout the state.

Under the new law, transgender people are once again free to use the bathroom of their choice, but they lack any recourse should a person, business or state entity eject or harass them.

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The new law also denies LGBT people state legal protections in other areas such as employment and housing.

Outraged LGBT advocates, who had wanted an unconditional repeal of HB 2, were already pressuring business and sports organizations not to return.

“This (is) the end of HB 2 in name only. The bill that was passed today is a disgrace, not a ‘fix,’ a ‘reset,’ or a ‘compromise,’ and certainly not a repeal,” Mara Keisling, director of the Washington-based National Center for Transgender Equality, said in a statement.

“Putting any kind of moratorium on civil rights, whether six months or three years long, is dangerous and wrong,” she said.

Deutsche Bank, which in response to HB 2 froze plans to create 250 jobs at its location in Cary, North Carolina, declined to comment on Thursday.

Elected political rivals on both sides of the issue claimed at least partial victories in reaching the compromise that produced the new law. Both Cooper and the Republican House speaker said they expected the NCAA to once again schedule championship events.

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NCAA President Mark Emmert said at a news conference posted online by the Raleigh News and Observer newspaper that the board of directors would decide whether the change is sufficient to spur a return.

The deal to replace HB 2 came together on Wednesday night, just ahead of an NCAA deadline to amend the law.

The governor told reporters the law was imperfect but said Thursday’s action would help begin repairing North Carolina’s damaged reputation.

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“I wish this were a complete, total repeal, and whenever I get the chance to do that I will do that. ... I’m going to fight every single day for LGBT protections,” Cooper said.

HB 2 was passed in response to an ordinance in Charlotte, the state’s largest city, that permitted transgender people to use the bathrooms matching their gender identity. The Charlotte ordinance alarmed social conservatives who, without evidence, feared it would endanger women and girls in intimate spaces.

House Speaker Tim Moore said the new state law protected bathroom safety, but some social conservatives were unsatisfied.

“The truth remains, no basketball game, corporation, or entertainment event is worth even one little girl losing her privacy and dignity to a boy in the locker room, or being harmed or frightened in a bathroom,” said Tami Fitzgerald, executive director of the NC Values Coalition in Raleigh and an outspoken supporter of HB 2.

Cooper, the former state attorney general, has opposed HB 2 from the outset. He unseated former Republican Governor Pat McCrory last year in large part because of the law’s political and economic fallout, political analysts say.

Reporting by Colleen Jenkins in Winston-Salem, N.C., and Daniel Trotta in New York; Editing by Peter Cooney and Lisa Shumaker