The Letcher County Fiscal Court voted five to one this week to end its controversial plan to try to pass a local ordinance that would make it a crime for transgender citizens to use public restrooms that match their gender identities.
Last month, magistrates and Judge/Executive Jim Ward voted unanimously to direct Letcher County Attorney Jamie Hatton to determine whether the fiscal court, as the county’s legislative body, could pass a law declaring that Letcher County’s government would not comply with any federal law or regulation that opens public restrooms to transgendered people. That vote came at the request of District One Magistrate Bobby Howard, who said his constituents were angry that the U.S. Department of Justice was attempting to block a controversial new law in North Carolina that restricts transgender bathroom access. (A transgender man is a person who was born female but identifies as a man. Likewise, the sex of a transgender woman was determined to be male at birth but the gender identity is that of a woman.)
This week, Howard voted with the majority in supporting District Five Magistrate Wayne Fleming’s motion that the court drop plans to enter into the controversy. Fleming said that since Kentucky Governor Matt Bevin has signed Kentucky on along with 11 other states to countersue the Justice Department in support of North Carolina’s law, there is no need for Letcher County to pursue a local ordinance that could end up in a costly courtroom battle.
Fleming said that his opinions on the subject have not changed, but it is pointless for Letcher County to get embroiled in a court fight the county can’t afford when the state is fighting the same battle. County Attorney Hatton agreed with Fleming that such an ordinance could be costly to the county if it was taken to court. Other court members also said their opinions on the matter haven’t changed, but agreed the county cannot afford a prolonged legal battle in state or federal court.
The lone no vote was cast by District Two Magistrate Terry Adams, who said that sharing bathrooms with transgender individuals violates his beliefs.
The court’s May 16 vote to put the wheels in motion for the county’s own “bathroom bill” had drawn criticism from many, including a group of about 20 young Letcher County citizens who showed up at an 8:30 a.m. budget meeting on May 20 to urge the court to drop the plan.
The issue of transgender bathroom rights was brought to the national spotlight after North Carolina passed its law ordering that bathrooms in schools or other public and government buildings be used only by persons of the sex that matches their birth certificate.
The North Carolina law led to the Obama administration issuing a federal directive specifying that under the Title IX federal civil rights law, schools must treat students consistent with their gender identity. The directive says schools cannot require transgender students to produce a birth certificate or force them to use bathrooms inconsistent with that identity.