What Was Really Behind North Carolina’s Anti-LGBT Bill

It was, in the end, about a 21st century governor who joined a short, tragic list of 20th century governors. You know at least some of these names, probably: Wallace, Faubus, Barnett. They were men who fed our worst impulses, men who rallied citizens against citizens, instead of leading their states forward. —Charlotte Observer editorial board

North Carolina’s not-so-illustrious Governor Pat McCrory was evidently caught completely off guard by the backlash of outrage and condemnation from individuals, organizations, North Carolina city governments and national corporations that followed his signing of the anti-LGBT House Bill 2 (HB2), sometimes known as the Charlotte Bathroom Bill. The nAll-Gender-Restroom-Signew state law not only overturns Charlotte’s city ordinance barring discrimination and creating transgender accommodation for bathroom use. According to David A. Graham in The Atlantic, “… it also prevents any local governments from passing their own non-discrimination ordinances, mandates that students in the state’s schools use bathrooms corresponding to the gender on their birth certificate, and prevents cities from enacting minimum wages higher than the state’s.” Chris Fitzsimon of NC Policy Watch notes that “the legislation also eliminated the right of workers illegally fired because of their race or religion or gender from suing in state court.”

Of course when you live in a privileged, white, heterosexual, affluent male bubble, it’s easy to lose touch with reality and the fact that homophobia, transphobia and bigotry don’t play too well outside the rural conservative enclaves in North Carolina. Even the governor of Georgia saw the wisdom of declining to sign the bigoted bill that his state legislature recently passed, perhaps not wanting to have his name mentioned in the same breath as extremists George Wallace, Orval Faubus and Lester Maddox.
McCrory responded to the condemnation of HB2 by more than one hundred major organizations (including Apple, PayPal, Dow Chemical, the NBA, the NCAA, Google, American Airlines, IBM and Facebook), the national media and numerous others lashing out at the liberal media: “We have not taken away any rights that have currently existed in any city in North Carolina,” a classic example of Orwellian doublespeak that no one is buying except, perhaps, the governor’s acolytes and the uninformed.

One might wonder what McCrory and Republican state legislators (with the support of eleven Democratic state representatives) had in mind when they hastily called a special session to counter Charlotte’s provision to protect the rights of transgender people. They claim they were protecting women and children from transgender sexual predators in public restrooms (as if such predators actually existed outside the minds of bigots). In truth, however, McCrory and our Republican legislators are attempting to generate fear of transgender people in an eleventh-hour effort to oppose equal rights for gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender people despite the fact that the trajectory toward LGBT equality is clear. Bottom line: they were firing up the culture wars, tossing red meat to their political base, hoping to energize them for the November election.

Of course this discriminatory piece of legislation will undoubtedly be invalidated within the next few years. Lambda Legal, Equality North Carolina and the ACLU of North Carolina have already filed a lawsuit asking that HB2 be overturned, and Roy Cooper, the state attorney general, has called HB2 shameful and declared he will refuse to defend it. It should be noted that Cooper, a Democrat, is opposing McCrory in the November general election.

Beneath all the bluster and grandstanding, I believe that McCrory and his political allies are afraid, scared of anyone who’s not like them, disturbed by the cultural shifts toward equal rights for everyone that are currently underway (Y’all does mean all.), fearful that that old white men (of which I am one) will finally be toppled from the top of the pecking order.

North Carolina’s radical, right-wing Republicans have gerrymandered our state very effectively, and it will be challenging to dislodge them from their pedestal of power. But, in truth, HB2 is a last ditch effort to stem the tide of history. Consciously or subconsciously, McCrory et al know their downfall is afoot. And they are terrified.

Finally, from the North Carolina city I’m proud to call home, a statement from Asheville Mayor Esther Manheimer:

Asheville is a welcoming city that thrives on diversity and equality. We take pride in our unique character and openness to all, without regard to race, color, religion, national origin, age, gender, sexual orientation, gender identity, gender expression, familial status or disability. As our legal staff works to better understand HB2, the effects will not change our commitment to these values. Asheville will continue to be a place where we can be proud to live, work and raise families in a community that celebrates our differences.

This essay was originally posted at The Good Men Project.

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