RALEIGH, N.C.-- Demonstrations encircled North Carolina's statehouse on Monday, for and against a Republican-backed law curtailing protections for LGBT people and limiting public bathroom access for transgender people, and House Democrats filed a repeal bill that stands little chance of passing.
Thousands of Christian conservatives and other supporters of the law known as House Bill 2 gathered on a grassy mall behind the Legislative Building on the opening day of the legislature to praise the mostly Republican legislators and GOP Gov. Pat McCrory for passing the restrictions during a special session last month.
"It took great courage for them to establish this bill," said Doug Woods, 82, of Raleigh, a rally attendee. "They need to stand firm."
The law blocks local and state protections for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people and directs which restrooms transgender people can use in public buildings.
Key lawmakers who pushed through the legislation also urged the rally attendees to contact colleagues and urge them to fight off efforts to overturn the law.
"The battle is about to be engaged," said Rep. Paul Stam, R-Wake, a veteran of North Carolina's cultural wars, told the crowd.
Later Monday afternoon and evening, hundreds of protesters took turns sitting outside the offices of House Speaker Tim Moore and Senate leader Phil Berger to demand repeal of the law.
By the time the evening was over, there were 54 arrests, reports CBS Raleigh affiliate WNCN-TV.
Sixteen people were charged second degree trespass and fire code violation, 1 person was charged with violating building rules and second degree trespass, 1 with violating fire code, second degree trespassing and resisting arrest.
There were 36 people charged with building rules violation and second degree trespassing.
Police led people away from Moore's office in plastic handcuffs Monday evening.
Most were led off quietly, but one woman chanted: "Forward together, not one step back!" Among those led out in handcuffs was Mara Keisling, executive director of the National Center for Transgender Equality in Washington.
North Carolina legislators returned Monday night for their annual work session. As the short House meeting ended, demonstrators in the gallery yelled their displeasure.
Several dozen protesters continued a vocal protest inside the front doors of the Legislative Building for at least a half hour before leaving. About two dozen others remained "We won't do HB 2," the protesters chanted, referring to the law by its initials. "North Carolina sticks together."
Earlier Monday, about 200 people gathered on the grounds of the old Capitol building to hear speakers denounce the law. They carried cardboard boxes holding what they said were 180,000 pro-repeal signatures on a petition for delivery to McCrory, whose office sits within the 1840 Capitol building. By mid-afternoon their numbers had swelled to between 600 and 800.
"HB2 compounds the discrimination and marginalization of the transgender community, who already have to fight every day for their survival," said Joaquin Carcano, a transgender man who's suing over the law. "Our privacy and safety matter too. Our right to feel safe and protected in this world does not infringe on anyone else's right to the same."
The head of the state NAACP, the Rev. William Barber, called the law "Hate Bill 2." He said it affects the poor and minorities as well as the LGBT community, despite conservative efforts to depict it as a law focused on bathroom safety.
"We make a mistake when we call it the 'bathroom bill,'" he said.
He added that the bill is an anti-living wage bill, CBS affiliate WNCN reported.
"It's an anti-worker bill. It's an anti-family bill. It's an anti-civil rights protection bill. It's an anti-gay bill," he said.
Singers Nick Jonas and Demi Lovato are the latest artists to cancel shows in North Carolina in protest of the state's new law.
Jonas and Lovato issued a statement on Twitter on Monday saying they are cancelling the shows in Raleigh and Charlotte this summer because the goal of their concerts are to allow every person to feel equal, included and accepted.
The statement says the North Carolina law that limits government protections for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender citizens is hateful.
Bruce Springsteen, Mumford and Sons, Pearl Jam, Blue Man Group and Cirque du Soleil have all cancelled performances in North Carolina since the law was passed last month.
Republican legislative leaders have expressed no interest in overturning the new law. GOP lawmakers have focused their discussion of the law on provisions requiring transgender people to use multi-stall restrooms that align with their gender at birth.
Democratic Rep. Grier Martin of Raleigh, a sponsor of the repeal bill, said the new law has stained North Carolina's reputation and harmed it economically. Some companies have halted planned expansions because of the law, while many groups have canceled their scheduled conventions in the state.
If the repeal were approved immediately, Martin told reporters, "it would not undo with the swipe of a pen the incredible damage that House Bill 2 has done to our economy. But it would stop the bleeding and put North Carolina back on the path of progress and moving forward."
While pro-HB 2 forces held their rally, about 20 people opposing the law held a sit-in outside McCrory's office in the old Capitol to protest, joining arms and singing songs including "We Shall Not Be Moved."
After two of them delivered a written statement to McCrory's chief of staff, they were told they wouldn't be asked to leave. After about an hour, they decided to file out of the building so they could rejoin the larger planned sit-in in the afternoon.