Republicans who control the General Assembly went to great lengths – probably beyond even the U.S. Constitution – to secure their majority through gerrymandering. But in walling themselves into power, they overlooked the real threat to their keeping it – their own extremism.
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That hazard will be put on clear display today as the legislature convenes a special session to block a Charlotte ordinance that allows transgender men to use the men’s room, and transgender women to use the women’s room. Republican leaders say the session is urgently needed for the “privacy and protection of the women and children of our state.” They want to invalidate the Charlotte law, and they’re likely to forbid any other local government from passing anything like it.
Polls indicate that most North Carolinians don’t share the Republican lawmakers’ alarm. They think it’s better to let a local government decide the bathroom-choice issue, or to settle the matter through a local referendum. Meanwhile, 17 states and more than 200 cities and towns have passed non-discrimination laws protecting gender identity in public spaces.
And there is, of course, the irony of these Republican lawmakers rushing to Raleigh to protect children in the bathroom after they’ve done so little to help them in the classroom, or in life in general. That 1 in 4 North Carolina children live in poverty, that many lack access to pre-K and after-school programs, that many children’s families would be helped by the expansion of Medicaid and the restoration of the Earned Income Tax Credit have not spurred the legislature to action.
All of this would seem to suggest that holding a special session on this matter – particularly over the objection of the governor, who usually calls for such sessions – is a complete waste of time and money. But there is one value in this special session. It will show in its discriminating, single-issue fixation the recklessness and foolishness of the Republican leaders and those who follow them.
The flaws of this session will not be obscured by double-talk about education funding and fairy tales about trickle-down tax cuts. This will be about one thing, and that thing will not be about bathrooms. It will be about legislative incompetence, how much it has cost North Carolina’s people and how much it has diminished the state’s appeal as a welcoming and progressive place.
House Speaker Tim Moore says the Charlotte ordinance must be overturned because, “It’s a public safety issue.” But many transgender people no doubt already are using the bathroom of their choice without any threat to public safety. And if a transgender person bothers or assaults someone in a bathroom, there are already laws that address those actions. Also, it is the transgender person who is more likely at risk if forced to use a men’s bathroom.
What Moore is really saying is that men are men and women are women. But life is not that simple, as the growing movement for transgender rights has shown. The law should respect that reality, not deny it.