In the Age of Acceptance, North Carolina Chooses Intolerance

LGBT rights have expanded exponentially in the past year. The Supreme Court case Obergefell v. Hodges (2015) legalized same-sex marriage across all 50 states, briefly putting an end to state-imposed discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation.[1] The majority of political backlash following the Obergefell decision, primarily from conservative states and politicians, consisted mostly of homophobic banter and religiously motivated Kim Davis-style reactions. However, North Carolina demonstrated a new level of bigotry on March 23rd when Governor Pat McCrory signed into law House Bill 2, or the “Public Facilities Privacy & Security Act.” The bill disallows transgender individuals from using public bathrooms and locker rooms that do not coincide with their “biological sex.”[2] The Bathroom Bill came to the floor of the North Carolina state legislature after lawmakers convened to overturn an anti-discrimination law passed by Charlotte’s city council.[3] By targeting his Republican constituents, Governor Pat McCrory, who spearheaded the bill, likely hopes that this prototypical conservative stance will aid him as he gears up for reelection.[4] Aside from lacking any decency, constitutionality, or evidence that its institution is necessary, HB2 is only going to assure that the individuals within the state who have fought tirelessly for equality are further alienated — all for bigoted political campaigning.

The Obergefell Supreme Court case was a landmark decision that afforded marriage rights to same-sex couples, but even after such a victory for the LGBT community, there are still those intent on igniting a political debate over something as (seemingly) trivial as bathroom rights. During the July 2015 delivery of the Obergefell majority opinion, Supreme Court Justice Anthony Kennedy redefined the parameters of the 14th Amendment of the Constitution when he stated that “the Constitution promises liberty to all within its reach, a liberty that includes certain specific rights that allow persons, within a lawful realm, to define and express their identity.”[5] Feeling comfortable defining and expressing one’s own identity is vital as we progress into the age of gender neutrality. In order to lawfully determine the “biological sex” of an individual, what measures higher on the scale of psychological burden: undergoing a pelvic exam every time you’re questioning which bathroom to use or sharing a mirror and a hand dryer with someone who is transgender?

Like many states in the Deep South, North Carolina’s demographic is sharply divided between progressive city folk and their rural conservative counterparts. For this reason, the citizenry in areas like Charlotte and Raleigh have attempted to ignite change through their local governments, which isn’t something that the Republican-controlled General Assembly has taken a liking to. David Graham from the The Atlantic notes, “In September, just as the legislative calendar was ending, lawmakers heard a bill that would prevent cities from passing higher minimum-wage laws, establishing affordable-housing mandates, or instituting rules about landlord-tenant relations.”[6] After the Republicans gained control of the state legislature and the Governor’s seat in 2012, progressive reforms were put to a halt, making way for more conservative policies. Governor McCrory is attempting to satisfy that same constituency as he begins his reelection faceoff against Attorney General Roy Cooper. Although partisanship shouldn’t necessarily be at the crux of the debate over the Bathroom Bill, when it passed the North Carolina Senate, a capital (R) preceded every legislator’s name who voted in favor.[7]

By utilizing this grassroots approach to lawmaking, Charlotte’s city council passed an anti-discrimination ordinance in February, which would have afforded additional protections to lesbian, gay, and transgender people in their capacities as customers and employees. What sparked the most controversy, however, was the ordinance’s provision that would have allowed transgender people to use the bathrooms associated with their gender identity. The majority Republican legislature would have likely overturned the ordinance with or without the bathroom provision; however, its inclusion gave the General Assembly all the ammunition it needed to garner support for its repeal. When defending the bill on NBC, Governor McRory stated, “I wonder if your daughter or son was showering and all of a sudden a man walks into the locker room and says, ‘This is what I am.’ Would you want that for your child?”[8] The bathroom provision allowed the North Carolina legislature to strike down the anti-discrimination bill by crafting a narrative in which security and privacy were being completely overhauled, and transgender women were potential rapists just waiting to strike.

The journalists, activists, and citizens who have attempted to shine a light on the bigotry in the North Carolina state government have found that the evidence to support the claim that there is any danger in allowing transgender persons to use the bathroom of their choice, is essentially nonexistent. Those defending the law have been unsuccessful in pinpointing a single case that demonstrates the need to legislate where we use the restroom.[9] Because of this lack of evidence, it was only a matter of days before the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), Lamba Legal, and Equality North Carolina filed a lawsuit challenging the law, calling it “legalized discrimination.”[10] This claim was further substantiated when North Carolina Attorney General Roy Cooper stated on March 29th that he would not defend North Carolina in the suit, calling the passage of HB2 “a national embarrassment.”[11] Human rights activists were not alone in challenging the legislation; many companies, including American Airlines and Paypal, who have strong business ties to the state, have spoken out against the law.[12] This, however, will carry little weight in the grand scheme of things.

While several large corporations have explicitly stated their opposition to the law, what concerns Governor McCrory isn’t the approval of big business, which will likely maintain its economic partnerships with North Carolina despite whatever negative exposure the state receives. His stigmatization of the LGBT community stems largely from his ultimate goal of winning the upcoming gubernatorial race. While politicians often go above and beyond when running for a competitive seat in government, it’s especially repugnant when they use the plight of others, in a painfully obvious way, to satisfy their voter base. Governor McCrory isn’t the only politician utilizing these antics. It isn’t difficult to draw the connection between the North Carolina Bathroom Bill and presidential candidate Donald Trump’s proposed wall along the U.S.-Mexican border, in the sense of attempting to define “the other” in the American — or in this case the North Carolinian — psyche.

As the lawsuit against HB2 presumably reaches the threshold of the United States Supreme Court, legal precedents will likely be created as we move forward into societal acceptance of gender existing on a spectrum. However, what mustn’t be forgotten is the intent of certain individuals in government when committing political stunts. Governor McCrory wouldn’t have been able to successfully spearhead such an intransigent, bigoted law if he wasn’t attempting to appease both his Republican base, and those individuals who voted for him in the first place. What we often forget is that this unfaltering hatred is being welcomed, and by millions of people within this country. As many of us celebrate the societal progressions of the last 25 years, there are millions dreading the thought of choosing acceptance over prejudice. Luckily, we can do our part by fostering civility, in our personal lives and at the ballot box, because we cannot thrive if we allow ourselves to be led by anyone advocating for intolerance.

[1] United States Supreme Court, OBERGEFELL ET AL. V. HODGES, DIRECTOR, OHIO DEPARTMENT OF HEALTH. By Anthony Kennedy. Washington, DC: United State Supreme Court, 2015. 

[2] Emanuella Grinberg, “The Unexpected Impact of N.C.’s Bathroom Law,” CNN. March 29, 2016. 

[3] Amber Phillips, “Why the Lawsuit against North Carolina’s ‘bathroom Bill’ Is a Huge One for LGBT Activists,” Washington Post, March 29, 2016.

[4] Editorial Board, “Transgender Law Makes North Carolina Pioneer In Bigotry,” New York Times, March 25, 2016.

[5] Jonathan Adler, “SCOTUS Finds Constitutional Right To Same-Sex Marriage,” Washington Post, June 26, 2015.

[6] David Graham, “North Carolina Overturns LGBT-Discrimination Bans,” The Atlantic, March 24, 2016.

[7] Tal Kopan and Eugene Scott, “North Carolina Governor Signs Controversial LGBT Bill,” CNN, March 24, 2016.

[8] Zach Ford, “No, Nothing Pat McCrory Says In Defense Of North Carolina’s Anti-LGBT Law Is True,” ThinkProgress, March 29, 2016.

[9] Editorial Board, “Transgender Law Makes North Carolina Pioneer In Bigotry,” New York Times, March 25, 2016.


[10] Niraj Chokshi, “Liberal Groups Sue North Carolina Over Transgender Bathroom Law,” Washington Post, March 28, 2016.

[11] Jon Kamp and Cameron McWhirter, “Business Leaders Speak Out Against North Carolina’s Transgender Law,” Wall Street Journal, March 30, 2016.

[12] Molly Reilly, “Businesses Are Joining The Fight Against North Carolina’s Anti-LGBT Law,” Huffington Post, March 24, 2016.

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