The sweeping ban on local anti-discrimination laws the General Assembly passed and Gov. Pat McCrory signed on Wednesday isn’t really about keeping transgender women out of women’s bathrooms and transgender men out of men’s rooms. No doubt many transgender people have used and will continue to use the bathrooms that match the gender with which they identify. The Charlotte anti-discrimination ordinance that was struck down for recognizing and protecting this choice may be in legal limbo, but the reality it reflected is not altered.
No, what the Public Facilities Privacy & Security Act is really about is respect, or rather the ultimate expression of a lack of it – insult. McCrory and his fellow Republicans who control the legislature have used this shoddy bill to slap people in the face. They’ve used it to reject the difficult and often brave efforts of transgender people to express who they are. Instead, transgender people are told by this law that they are whatever sex appears on their birth certificates.
That the insult may be born more of ignorance than meanness does not excuse it. Lawmakers have an obligation to become informed about subjects on which they legislate. Their failure in this case leads to the law’s second insult – an insult to the legislative process. The proposal, passage and signing of this law in one day with virtually no notice, brief public comment and a walkout by Senate Democrats who would not participate in the farce, displayed a stunning disregard for democracy. It was a kind of legislative vandalism that likely violated the Constitution and certainly damaged the state’s reputation.
Finally, this law is an insult to all the people of North Carolina. The power of local governing bodies to pass anti-discrimination ordinances was curtailed and the ability of North Carolinians to shape the values and express the priorities of their communities was denied.
By the end of last week major North Carolina businesses – many of which have broadly inclusive policies that protect employees from discrimination – were speaking out against the law. Jim Whitehurst, chief executive of the Raleigh-based software company Red Hat, tweeted that the law “is a clear step backwards. Sad day.” The law drew national attention and a New York Times editorial on North Carolina becoming “a pioneer in bigotry.”
Meanwhile, North Carolina will likely face constitutional challenges to the law and a federal review of whether the law violates civil rights under Title IX and could jeopardize federal education funding.
Passage of this law aimed at a nonexistent threat will do nothing to improve public safety. But there is abundant evidence that it has hurt – and will continue to hurt –– North Carolina.