North Carolina’s House Bill 2 has become one of the most divisive pieces of legislation that the state’s General Assembly has passed in recent history.
Considered to be the most anti-LGBT law on the books in the U.S., the bill prohibits individuals from filing wrongful termination claims in state courts if the individual believes he or she was fired because of some form of illegal discrimination -including one’s gender identity or sexual orientation- and it also mandates that all people must use the bathroom that corresponds to the sex listed on their birth certificate in government buildings.
Proponents of the bill maintain that it is a common sense measure, as it protects the privacy and safety of North Carolinians. They cite instances where a middle school girl would be forced to share a changing room with a boy and insist that the bill, in the words of the president pro tempore of the North Carolina Senate, Phil Berger, “has nothing to do with discrimination and everything to do with protecting women’s privacy and keeping men out of girls’ bathrooms.”
Opponents of the legislation reject this notion, claiming that the law violates the Equal Protection and Due Process clauses of the Constitution, as it is an invasion of privacy for transgender people and discriminates on the basis of sex and sexual orientation.
These opponents are not alone. Entities ranging from the NBA, who decided to move its 2017 All-Star Game over the law, to PayPal, who decided against expanding into Charlotte, have openly demonstrated their disapproval of the legislation.
Unlikely additions to this list in recent days have included two Republican state senators: Sen. Rick Gunn of Burlington and Sen. Tamara Barringer from Cary.
Even though most of the opposition to HB2 has revolved around its discriminatory provisions, these two lawmakers made scant mention of such provisions and instead emphasized the detrimental economic impact HB2 has inflicted on the state.
While Barringer and Gunn should, of course, be applauded for their pleas to change the bill, it should be noted that they are likely not doing so due to an exceptional change of heart regarding the rights of LGBT individuals. They were principally driven by what almost all politicians seek — reelection.
Both senators represent areas that have already suffered economically and will continue to be hit hard by the effects of the law, and both are in the midst of reelection campaigns. It is only in this moment that these legislators have spoken out, and they are probably only doing it because they have started to understand a painful reality: they will now have to explain to their constituents why potential jobs will leave their districts and why millions of dollars in investment will not flow into North Carolina’s economy.
Without a doubt, passing on financial opportunities like those seems foolish, and an effort to take a stand and support HB2 would be virtually untenable for Barringer or Gunn.
But what is really troubling is not the monetary losses that North Carolina will endure but rather media and politicians’ fixation on nothing but little pieces of green paper.
Gunn and Barringer, like too many others in the General Assembly, remained silent about the bill for months. They may have recognized that it was controversial and that it had what Barringer deemed “unintended consequences,” but they certainly did not make those concerns known until the effects of the legislation were embarrassingly clear.
The conventional wisdom holds that opponents of HB2 shifted their tactics to emphasize economic consequences, because they thought supporters of the bill were unlikely to be persuaded by appeals to the basic and fundamental human rights and dignity that all people deserve. These appeals apparently, have fallen out of favor among representatives in Raleigh. But too many groups have accentuated the detrimental effects on the state’s economy at the expense of affirming the unassailable rights that LGBT individuals deserve.
The online magazine “Facing South” recently conducted a comprehensive look at the aggregate economic effects of HB2. The piece is a fantastic documentation of just how damaging HB2 really is to the state of North Carolina, but it did little more than passively mention the discriminatory provisions and did not address the rights of LGBT people at all.
To be fair, the magazine has placed more emphasis on the harm that the bill inflicts on the LGBT community in other pieces, but any and all arguments that call for the repeal of HB2 must have the basic equality of every human being as their philosophical underpinning. Indeed, to the first-time observer of the magazine’s analysis of the economic ramifications of the bill, it would seem as if opponents are concerned with nothing more than how much money will ultimately fall into North Carolina’s pocket.
The LGBT community in North Carolina, then, has been trivialized, if they have not been already. It truly is shameful (albeit somewhat understandable) that it was not appeals to basic human dignity but rather to realizations of just how harmful HB2 would be in a financial sense that finally provoked Republicans to condemn the bill.
This realization thus highlights an essential reminder for all who oppose HB2: do not oppose it solely because you are worried about North Carolina’s bottom line. Do not oppose it because you are angry that the NBA All-Star Game will not be in Charlotte anymore. Oppose it on the grounds that the North Carolina General Assembly has allowed for the blatant discrimination based on sex, gender identity and sexual orientation. Demand the repeal of HB2 because it is the right thing to do while naturally calling attention to the economic detriment along the way to bolster your case.
In July, I had the good fortune of attending a panel hosted by WFAE’s “Charlotte Talks” on how HB2 changed North Carolina. I arrived early to the event and was lucky enough to meet one of the panelists, whose name was Trey Greene. A social worker who is the co-founder and executive director of Transcend Charlotte, Greene works to promote social justice for transgender people and is a transgender man.
He seemed nervous when I met him, as anyone who was about to speak in front of hundreds of people certainly would be, but throughout the evening, he displayed another emotion that was very disconcerting. He seemed upset, and not because he was angry at those who supported the bill, but because he had to get up on a stage under gleaming lights and justify who he is and why he deserves the basic protections that the overwhelming majority of North Carolina citizens take for granted. He undoubtedly voiced his disapproval of the bill, but he repeatedly spoke about life beyond HB2 after the dust finally settles, whenever that may be. He highlighted how misunderstood the transgender community is and how we must all do more to educate the public at large about transgender people and the unique struggles that they often face.
We must repeal HB2 because of people like Greene. We have to call for the dismantling of the legislation not because we are worried about money, but because we are deeply concerned that scores of people like Greene will somehow feel as if they are less of a human being because of the bill. Repeal HB2 for the right reasons, and never forget to always put the individuals who the law affects the most at the forefront of the discussion.