North Carolina Senate leader Phil Berger, the state’s most powerful Republican, made an expensive statement last week. He announced he would not support repeal of House Bill 2.
That means the state’s losses in jobs, business activity and taxes will continue to mount, but something more precious and harder to recover is also at stake: North Carolina’s reputation as a forward thinking and welcoming state. Apparently there is no cost too great to make Berger reconsider his absolute defense of a bill clumsily patched together and passed and signed in a single day with virtually no opportunity for the public to assess it.
Berger claims he is representing a great majority who want transgender people kept out of school and public bathrooms and locker facilities.
Apparently Berger isn’t hearing from a representative sample of the state. A SurveyUSA poll conducted for WRAL between April 8 and April 11 asked: “Given what you do know about HB2, do you approve, or disapprove, of the bill overall?” The result: 38 percent approve, 50 percent disapprove.
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Given the continued fallout from the law and more people becoming informed of its contents, it’s likely that the disapproval rate has increased substantially. But Berger and other HB2 diehards stress the law’s more popular provision that states that people must use the bathroom that matches the gender on their birth certificate.
It’s a foolish issue on which to to stake the state’s fortunes. Transgender people are a miniscule part of the population, most are already using the public bathroom that corresponds to their gender identity, sexual assaults by transgender people or people posing as transgender are harder to find than Bigfoot (though assaults on transgender people aren’t) and the bathroom ban is impossible to enforce.
Meanwhile, the bill also contains sweeping provisions that allow discrimination against transgender and gay people, block access to state courts for many discrimination claims and forbid local governments from setting a minimum wage higher than the state and national rate of $7.25 per hour.
What is most damning about the defense of HB2 is that it makes a lie of the Republican rationale for cutting corporate income taxes, limiting services and medical care for the poor and rationing funding for education. That has all been done in the name of making North Carolina “business friendly” and promoting the North Carolina “brand.”
Now these same people are ignoring calls for HB2’s repeal from major corporations and chambers of commerce. They’re also willing to see the state’s impressive and hard-won reputation damaged.
The U.S. Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals ruled last week that bathroom restrictions on transgender people violate the Obama administration’s interpretation of Title IX, a law forbidding discrimination based on gender. That signals that sticking with HB2 could cost North Carolina billions of dollars in federal aid.
That should be enough to convince Berger and his fellow bathroom monitors that their stubbornly saving face is coming at too high a cost.