When Janice Covington Allison enters a restaurant, the first thing she'll ask is whether she is permitted to use the ladies' restroom. If the answer is yes, she stays.

"When they say no, I just walk out the door and go somewhere else to spend my money," she says. And so far, nobody has refused her. Allison is transgender - she is a woman, but her birth certificate lists "male" as her gender.

In Charlotte in the state of North Carolina where the 69-year-old lives, however, she is now prohibited from using the ladies' facilities.

Legislation recently passed by the North Carolina legislature permits transgender persons to use only those facilities of government buildings, courts and schools that correspond to the gender identification on their birth certificate.

Transgender issues are the latest in the list of gender- and sexual-orientation questions that American society continues to grapple with. Transgender is a term for those people who do not - or not exclusively - identify with the gender given at their birth.

In many US states, North Carolina included, transgender people may only have their birth certificates altered if they undergo a sex-change operation. Allison notes a problem with this: "You have people that cannot have sexual reassignment surgery because of other health problems."

She is pretty angry about the Republican governor of her state, Patrick McCrory.

"He along with the state legislators has it made illegal for me to use the lady’s room in government buildings which I pay taxes on. They claim transgender people are sexual predators and pedophiles. The logic is crazy with this Republican governor."

Allison has seen and done a lot of things in her 69 years. As a young man at age 17, Allison enlisted in the US Army and foughtin Vietnam. Later, she went to San Francisco, the city of hippies, "flower power" - and a budding gay and lesbian liberation scene.

"I read an article once that there are people like me in San Francisco. Back then we did not have the internet; we did not have any talk about transgender people or even gay people," Allison recalls.

Much has changed in US society since then, with more liberal views slowly taking root. This is evidenced in the Supreme Court decision that opened up same-sex marriage in all 50 states last year. But North Carolina with its recent toilet facilities law is not an isolated case.

A handful of other states where Republican majorities hold sway have passed similar laws in recent months. In Mississippi, for example, companies and churches are permitted to refuse to provide service to homosexuals on grounds of religious belief.

Mississippi and North Carolina are among the states of the South making up the so-called "Bible Belt" where evanglical protestant fundamentalism is deeply embedded, and where resistance to gay, lesbian and transgender issues has been the strongest.

"We have a lot of Jesus here," comments Erica Lachowitz, a transgender woman from Charlotte. Her city, the largest in the state, is in other ways an upward-striving place. Building cranes mark the skyline, and new glass-and-steel towers are going up everywhere. Bank of America has its headquarters here, as do many other financial institutes and firms.

Charlotte's mayor, Jennifer Roberts, is a Democrat. In February, the city council passed an order which permitted transgender persons to decide for themselves which restroom they visited. But the order was overturned under the law passed by the state legislature.

The controversy has been brewing since last year, when the city council first took up the issue. A lot of hate towards transgender people was voiced, and for one pizzeria owner, Juli Ghazi, the toxic atmosphere became too much.

She simply converted her restroom into a uni-sex facility, noting that "gender specific" toilets sometimes put people in uncomfortable situations.

Ghazi calls the new state legislation a scandal: "It  makes citizens of our state feel like second class citizens. I think it is horrible."

Backers of the legislation make their case based on perceived safety aspects of public toilets and dressing rooms. Governor McCrory put it this way in an interview: "Would you want a man to walk into your daughter's shower and legally be able to do that because mentally they think they are of the other gender?"

Those now targeted by the legislation can only shake their heads at such arguments.

"I have been a fully transitional woman for the past 13 years," says Candice Cox. "I will look very out of place in the men's restroom. You don't have to agree with  me, you don't have to like what I have done with my personal life, but I ask that you respect me."

Since signing the legislation into law, McCrory has been confronted with heavy protests. Musicians like Bruce Springsteen and Ringo Starr cancelled their concerts in North Carolina, while companies like Deutsche Bank and Paypal have shelved plans for creating new jobs in the state. Several civil rights groups have filed a civil suit challenging the law.

McCrory then gave way a little, weakening some provisions of the law, but drawing the line at the gender-specific toilets.

The question now is, for how long? Last week, a US Appeals court ruled in favour of a transgender teenager who wanted to use the boys' restroom in a Virginia school. That same court would have jurisdiction over any suit filed in North Carolina.

Related stories

Latest news

Syrian opposition rules out future role for President al-Assad

The Syrian opposition said Friday it would not accept any role for President Bashar al-Assad in the future of the war-torn country, reacting to a recent US shift saying that removing al-Assad is no longer a priority for Washington.

Russian Army integrates breakaway forces of Georgian province

Parts of the small fighting forces of the Georgian breakaway province of South Ossetia have been placed under Russian military control, Russian Defence Minister Sergei Shoigu said on Friday.

Czech Republic's Pilsner Urquell beer is now Japanese

Japanese brewing company Asahi completed its takeover of the Czech brewery Pilsner Urquell on Friday, Asahi said in a statement.

Judge approves 25-million-dollar settlement of Trump University case

A US district judge on Friday approved a 25-million-dollar settlement of lawsuits and state fraud allegations against Trump University, the US president's now-defunct business venture.

Former Thai premier Thaksin to junta on reconciliation: 'Cut me out'

Former Thai prime minister Thaksin Shinawatra on Friday announced that he is not interested in the junta-led reconciliation process, three days after the junta handed him a half-a-billion-dollar tax bill for his past business deal.

Dalic: We welcome possible deal between Agrokor and banks

The government welcomes the possibility of an agreement being concluded between the Agrokor food company and creditor banks, and the bill on vitally important companies is not a fallback plan but the result of the government's care for the overall economic and financial stability of Croatia, Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Economy Martina Dalic told a press conference in Zagreb on Friday.

Croatia, China sign action plan for cooperation in agriculture

The Croatian and Chinese ministries of agriculture on Friday signed an action plan for cooperation in the field of agriculture for the period 2017-2018, the Croatian ministry said in a statement.

ZSE indices up, Agrokor shares in focus of investor interest

The Zagreb Stock Exchange (ZSE) indices on Friday rose by more than 1.8%, with stocks of the Agrokor food and retail concern being in the focus of investor interest again.

Berlin police defend handling of Berlin market attacker

Berlin police defended themselves on Friday against accusations that they stopped surveillance on Berlin Christmas market attacker despite knowing in June 2016 he was dangerous.

Croatia, creditors tailor emergency measures to save tottering giant

Croatia's tottering retail and food giant Agrokor reached an agreement with its creditors, putting its debts standby and allowing it to continue working during emergency restructuring, the Croatian branch of Austria's Erste Bank said Friday.

Agrokor's creditors say standstill agreement to go into force today

A standstill agreement regarding the Agrokor concern's existing financial obligations to banks will take effect on Friday, additional capital will be injected into the concern in the coming days and the concern will be actively restructured, which includes a change of its management, it was said on Friday after a meeting between Agrokor's suppliers and creditor banks.

Palestinians, UN slam Israel's new settlement plan

Palestinians, Israeli activists and the UN lambasted the government of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Friday, a day after it gave the go-ahead for the first new West Bank settlement in a quarter of a century.

South Sudan rebels release three abducted foreign oil workers

South Sudanese rebels have released three foreign engineers they abducted in early March in the oil-rich Upper Nile region, Foreign Affairs Ministry official Mawein Makol Arik said on Friday.

Turkish opposition: Imprisoned party chief has gone on hunger strike

The head of Turkey's pro-Kurdish opposition party has launched a hunger strike from prison.

European leagues threaten Champions League schedule clashes

The European Professional Football Leagues (EPFL) on Friday threatened schedule clashes on Champions League matchdays in an ongoing dispute with the governing body UEFA.

Danish court revokes citizenship of IS volunteer

A Danish appellate court on Friday stripped a man of his Danish citizenship for volunteering to fight for the extremist Islamic State in Syria.

Banks and Agrokor agree on key elements of standstill agreement

Member banks of the coordinating committee of financial creditors and representatives of the Agrokor food company have in principle agreed on key elements of a standstill agreement, which is expected to be signed later today, announcing changes in the company's management team, Erste Bank said in a statement on Friday afternoon.

Syrian man on trial in Sweden; mosque attack labelled terrorism

A Syrian man went on trial Friday in the southern Swedish city of Malmo, charged with terrorism and arson after an attack last year on a building used as an assembly hall by Shiite Muslims.