Op-Ed

Montel Williams says of HB2: ‘Discrimination, pure and simple’

Throughout my 22 years in the military, I was a proud Republican. I was drawn to the party, in large part, because of its message of inclusion and tolerance. It was Ronald Reagan, after all, who once famously said, “In the party of Lincoln, there is no room for intolerance. … Many people are welcome in our house, but not the bigots.”

Soon after leaving the military, I left the Republican Party. I felt it had strayed from Reagan’s iconic pronouncement. When I read House Bill 2, which will permit discrimination against LGBT Americans and others, that feeling of disillusionment bubbled up yet again. HB2 betrays not just President Reagan’s legacy of tolerance, but the bedrock conservative principles of local control and limited government.

The proponents of HB2, very calculatedly, inserted a “bathroom clause,” which requires North Carolinians to use the bathroom of their born “biological” sex. This is a solution in want of a problem. Its effect (likely intended) will be to marginalize and stigmatize transgender North Carolinians. The bill’s sponsors say they just want to make people feel more comfortable in public bathrooms. How ludicrous.

If this bill stays, transgender North Carolinians, who often present as their identified and affirmed gender, will be forced to use the restroom designated for their biological sex. In other words, a transgender man, who looks very much like a man, will be forced to use the women’s room. I fail to see how that makes anyone “more comfortable.”

The sponsors of this bill have an agenda here. They believe this “bathroom” clause will poll well in Republican primaries with their conservative base. Politically, such calculations miss the forest for the trees.

A majority of North Carolinians – and Americans nationwide – support non-discrimination protections for the LGBT community. Beyond that, the repercussions are worrisome.

The bill’s sponsors claim it is anti-discriminatory, but it is quite the opposite. It removes the consequences for discrimination under state law, not just against transgender individuals, but also for African-Americans and military veterans. When Rep. Grier Martin, a veteran, rose on the floor during debate and proposed adding protection for veterans, Rep. Paul Stam said he didn’t understand the need. Either Stam, himself a veteran, is ignorant of the problem of employment discrimination facing veterans, or he just doesn’t care.

HB2 voids an ordinance passed a month ago in Charlotte, which protected against discrimination in public accommodation – places that include public businesses (like movie theaters, grocery stores, restrooms and gas stations) and services (like taxicabs). The ordinance was a no-brainer and much-needed, providing protections to women, African-Americans, Latinos, veterans, the disabled and transgender Americans, among others. Similar protections have existed for decades in 18 states and the District of Columbia and 47 percent of Americans currently live under similar ordinances.

Clearly, the bill’s proponents were in a hurry to get it passed, perhaps because they knew they were on shaky ground. The consequences of HB2 could be nothing short of frightening. By removing state law remedies to discrimination, HB2 threatens to send North Carolina back 50 years, to a dark period in the state’s history, one in which businesses refused service to people of color.

It’s repugnant that in this, the year 2016, it’s “acceptable” in some circles to discriminate against an entire class of people – LGBT Americans. This isn’t a matter of religious liberty. It’s discrimination, pure and simple.

Monday, we saw the Republican governor of Georgia, Nathan Deal, stand up to intolerance and make a powerful statement in favor of tolerance and conservative principles; and less than a month ago, Gov. Dennis Daugaard in South Dakota rejected this bathroom farce as a solution in want of a problem. It is a shame that Gov. Pat McCrory lacked the political courage to reject HB2. Voters would be wise to show him the door in the next election.

A graduate of the Naval Academy, Montel Williams served 22 years in both the Navy and the Marines before going on to start the Emmy-award winning Montel Williams show, which ran for 17 seasons.

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