When the NBA announced Thursday that it was pulling its All-Star Game out of Charlotte to protest House Bill 2, state Senate leader Phil Berger responded by sending out a video of a man’s sneakers as he sat in the stall in a women’s bathroom.
“The need for HB2 became crystal clear earlier this month, just steps away from the NBA arena in Charlotte, when a grown man engaged in sexual activity in a women’s public bathroom,” Berger said.
But rather than making anything crystal clear, the video served to show how muddled is the thinking behind HB2. The man may well have been a pervert, but HB2 – the much-debated law of the land – didn’t keep him out of the women’s bathroom.
Berger, however, argues that if transgender people are allowed to use the bathroom that corresponds to their gender identity, men would be free to go into women’s bathrooms without consequence. They need simply say they identify as a woman.
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In theory, that’s correct, but also beside the point. Before HB2, there were already laws barring “grown men from engaging in sexual activity in a women’s public bathroom.” And there were already laws against peeping, taking photos or assaulting someone. Furthermore, HB2 itself includes no penalty for a man entering a women’s restroom. It simply says people must use the public bathroom that corresponds to the sex on their birth certificates. If a person doesn’t comply – and no doubt many transgender people are not complying – the law is silent about what should be done to offenders, or even what the offense would be.
The husband of the woman who took the bathroom video told WCCB-TV in Charlotte, “I feel like there should definitely be stricter rules or stricter laws that protect women and children who want to just go to the bathroom in peace.”
Well, there was a strict law in this case, a law against indecent exposure. Security officers detained the man, and police responded.
HB2 isn’t about protecting anyone. It’s about denying the authenticity of transgender people. It’s a law that says the government does not accept any anyone’s assertion that they identify with a gender different from their sex as assigned at birth.
In that sense, HB2 isn’t really a law. It’s a statement. It’s the slapping down of a small and vulnerable minority. It’s an act of meanness based on ignorance. Lawmakers who voted for it and the governor who signed didn’t research the issue. They didn’t talk to doctors or transgender people or even police. They just took a swipe and hoped that it would generate applause from others who are equally uninformed and not inclined to learn.
That Republican lawmakers then attached other provisions to this bullying law further exposed the cynicism behind it. They eliminated local ordinances protecting people from discrimination based on sexual orientation, blocked cities and towns from setting their own minimum wages and barred workplace discrimination cases from state courts (a change the legislature later reversed).
What’s mindboggling about the damage to the state’s economy and image caused by the Republicans’ steadfast defense of HB2 is that it’s a battle over nothing. Fights over abortion, integration and voting rights had clear stakes. But here the dispute is over a myth that not simply men but, to use Berger’s preferred term, “grown men,” were outside women’s rooms waiting for a Charlotte ordinance on transgender rights to give them access to ogle and grope women and girls.
Rather than rushing into a special session to block the Charlotte ordinance, Republican lawmakers should have let it take effect and see how it went. Apparently such ordinances have caused no problems in more than 100 other U.S. cities – including New Orleans, which may now be getting the all-star game.
Instead, Berger, House Speaker Tim Moore and Gov. Pat McCrory acted in haste and now are committed to defending a mistake as if they’re standing up for some heartland value against what McCrory – the suddenly rural, “g” droppin’ former mayor of North Carolina’s largest city – called the “total P.C. BS” of libertine cosmopolitans.
Losing the NBA All-Star Game will be an economic blow to Charlotte, but far more damaging is the new wave of attention it brings to North Carolina’s official mocking of transgender people and its elimination of laws against discrimination based on sexual identity.
Berger and McCrory run the state government, but they don’t own the state’s image. That belongs to generations that moved the state forward and all who call North Carolina home. Nonetheless, they’ve taken it and continue to damage it. And that’s the real crime at the center of HB2, not what it has prevented, but what it has caused.
Barnett: 919-829-4512, nbarnett@ newsobserver.com