If you’d asked me in 1985 – when I wrote my first column in favor of “homosexual rights” – if gays and lesbians would one day be able to marry, I would have said that was an interesting question which I’d never considered.
If you’d asked me again in 2008, even as liberal icons Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton were declaring their opposition to marriage equality, I’d have said it was inevitable.
If you’d asked me back then, or even two years ago, whether transgender Americans should be allowed to use the bathroom aligned with their gender identity, I’d have slack-jawed asked, “what are you talking about: Drag queens? Cross-dressers? Transexuals?”
Now, thanks to Caitlyn Jenner, the TV show “Transparent” and my teenage daughters – trans issues are hot topics at the schools – I have a better understanding of gender fluidity and gender dysphoria.
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As a firm believer in personal freedom and self-determination, I have been happily amazed at the speed with which LGBTQ rights have been recognized.
Still, I have been surprised by the intensity of the backlash against House Bill 2; if you had told me last month that scores of major corporations would plant rainbow flags in favor of transgender rights, I’d have said you were dreaming.
Let me join the chorus: HB2 is a bad law which must be repealed. Of course, the General Assembly has the authority and, sometimes the obligation, to override local laws – imagine the cry for action if the Charlotte City Council had decided to entrench, rather than diminish, discrimination.
But local officials represent their communities. Their democratically passed legislation should not be overturned without compelling evidence that it creates far more harm than good.
Regarding HB2, we know for certain it has near life-and-death importance to transgender Tar Heels, a long marginalized group that has suffered tremendous psychological harm, including sky high suicide rates, because, in part, of society’s rejection of them.
We also know that the 17 states and roughly 225 communities that allow people to select gender-appropriate bathrooms have not reported problems. As a practical matter, more women would take pause if Thomas Beatie, the “man who gave birth three times,” were forced to use their restroom.
HB2 is an especially bad law because it seems that Gov. Pat McCrory doesn’t understand it. Contrary to his repeated claims, it is much more than a bathroom bill, as it takes away rights secured by LGBT Tar Heels to challenge discrimination.
As a fair and decent person, McCrory should admit his error and insist the law be revisited.
That said, the ferocious attacks on HB2 help explain why it was passed in the first place. In these fast-changing times, when traditional norms are being upended, there is a growing divide between the views of powerful progressive elites and many ordinary citizens. One would never guess from The N&O’s coverage that a whopping 69 percent of North Carolinians believe it is “unreasonable and unsafe” to allow transgender people to use the bathroom of their choice, according to a poll conducted by Civitas Institute last month.
Are these people simply ignorant bigots? Or are they folks who have not had time to consider enormous changes which they are told, nevertheless, they must embrace?
My guess is that even most opponents of HB2 favor sex-segregated bathrooms – a relic of the Victorian era which is being challenged on many college campuses – and would be concerned if their children told them they believed their souls did not match their bodies.
Does this make them close-minded reactionaries on the wrong side of history?
Of course there is a difference between feeling discomfort and passing a law. But shouldn’t there be room in the culture to discuss these concerns?
While transgender Americans should not have their dignity and rights denied because of broader currents, is it not unreasonable for people to connect Charlotte’s law with the sexualization of American culture. To associate it with moral relativism and ongoing efforts to undermine traditional values, especially the importance of work, marriage and faith. To feel, somehow, that the spread of nonjudgmental license has also given us a presidential campaign featuring crude and unethical frontrunners.
Given our recent history, I have little doubt that HB2 will be overturned before long. I have less confidence that it will spur a truly open, truly tolerant conversation about the ideas and impulses transforming our nation and state.
Contributing columnist J. Peder Zane can be reached at email@example.com.