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Lt. Gov. Mark Robinson talks bathrooms, suggests transgender people should go 'outside'

North Carolina Lt. Governor Mark Robinson tosses caps to supporters following a rally announcing he is officially running for Governor during a rally outside Ace Speedway in Elon, N.C. Saturday, April 22, 2023. (Lynn Hey / For WUNC)
Lynn Hey
/
For WUNC
North Carolina Lt. Governor Mark Robinson tosses caps to supporters following a rally announcing he is officially running for Governor during a rally outside Ace Speedway in Elon, N.C. Saturday, April 22, 2023.

Nearly seven years after North Carolina repealed the “bathroom bill” that led to national headlines and economic boycotts, Lt. Gov. Mark Robinson is bringing back the issue of bathroom requirements for transgender people.

In campaign speeches in recent weeks, Robinson suggested that people who previously identified as male should be “arrested” if they go in a women’s bathroom. Instead, he suggests they should “find a corner outside somewhere” to relieve themselves.

“We're going to defend women in this state,” he said, according to a video of his campaign stop in Cary earlier this month. “That means if you're a man on Friday night, and all the sudden on Saturday, you feel like a woman, and you want to go in the women's bathroom in the mall, you will be arrested — or whatever we got to do to you.”

Robinson made a similar comment in a Greenville speech, adding that “if you are confused, find a corner outside somewhere to go. We're not tearing society down because of this.”

A spokesman for Robinson’s campaign declined to comment when WUNC sent questions seeking clarification on Robinson’s stance on bathroom regulations. He did not answer questions about whether the lieutenant governor wants to reinstate legislation similar to House Bill 2.

Known as the “bathroom bill,” that law was passed in 2016 in response to a new nondiscrimination ordinance in Charlotte. Among other things, the bill required people to use bathrooms in public facilities that match the gender on their birth certificate.

HB2 was criticized as discriminatory toward the LGBTQ+ community, and it prompted some companies to boycott North Carolina. The NCAA temporarily banned the state from hosting college sports championships.

The law was mostly repealed in 2017 in a compromise between Gov. Roy Cooper and Republican legislators; it's been fully repealed since 2020 when a remaining provision of the law expired. Since then, bathrooms haven’t been discussed much even as the GOP pursues other transgender-related restrictions. Last year, the legislature banned gender-affirming healthcare for transgender people under age 18 and banned transgender athletes from playing on teams that match their gender identity.

“The bathroom issue, most Republicans have avoided” since 2017, said Chris Cooper, a political scientist at Western Carolina University. “Mark Robinson is clearly not most Republicans, and so I would expect to see him bring this up time after time after time ... I think this is not the last time we’re going to hear Mark Robinson bring up issues around transgender bathrooms or transgender rights, and what he views as the wrong path for the state.”

Asked to respond to Robinson’s remarks on bathrooms, one of his Republican primary opponents, Salisbury attorney Bill Graham, issued a statement through a spokesman that did not address the issue.

“Mark Robinson will lose and hurt all GOP candidates if he is the nominee,” spokesman Alex Baltzegar said in an email. “His comments about the Holocaust being hogwash along with his demeaning comments about women will wreck GOP chances for regaining the White House and the governorship here in North Carolina.”

Another Republican candidate, State Treasurer Dale Folwell, said that “women should be in women’s bathrooms only, and if the General Assembly thinks those laws need to be tightened, then that’s something they should work on ... I just think there are so many laws that people need to make sure are actually being enforced.”

Folwell criticized the GOP frontrunner’s history of derogatory comments toward a range of groups. “He’s history’s latest example of someone who’s trying to rise to power based on telling people who to hate,” he said.

Graham’s campaign this week launched new ads and a website, meetmarkrobinson.com, highlighting other Robinson comments — although not his statements about LGBTQ+ issues.

One new ad criticizes Robinson for saying that God calls men to serve as leaders instead of women. And the website highlights old Facebook posts in which Robinson appears to be defending convicted sexual predators Harvey Weinstein and Bill Cosby.

While Republicans might not be eager to talk about House Bill 2 and bathrooms, Democrats are likely to bring it up as the general election for governor approaches. HB2 has been cited as one reason Republican Gov. Pat McCrory lost his re-election bid in 2016.

“HB2 was ultimately a losing issue for the Republican Party,” said Cooper, the political scientist. “The best thing for the Democrats would be if it becomes a campaign issue again.”

Colin Campbell covers politics for WUNC as the station's capitol bureau chief.