HILLSBOROUGH, N.C. — It has been one year since then-governor of North Carolina Pat McCrory signed House Bill 2 into law under cover of night. The now infamous HB2, more commonly known as “the bathroom bill,” ignited an economic firestorm, with a boycott that cost the state hundreds of millions of dollars, thousands of jobs and performances canceled by entertainers from Bruce Springsteen to the San Francisco Symphony.
Depending on which side you’re on, it started either a civil-liberties battle to protect the rights of transgender North Carolinians or a national effort to protect girls and women from potential male predators.
As a Tar Heel, I’m frequently asked, “What’s it like to live in North Carolina now?” The answer is simple: HB2 has divided my state like no other issue since racial segregation and tarnished our reputation at home and abroad. North Carolina is almost perfectly polarized these days, and compromise remains out of reach. It might surprise you to hear me say that I think the lack of a compromise solution is a good thing.
What? Why would I be opposed to what our new governor, Roy Cooper, promised in his State of the State message on March 13 — “to compromise when possible” and to find “common ground”? It’s easy to understand if you look at the history of minority compromises.
Here’s a very quick lesson:
The Three-Fifths Compromise of 1787 helped jump-start our new nation by agreeing to count every five slaves as three people for the purposes of determining congressional representation. That compromise helped perpetuate slavery well into the 19th century. Southern landowners and Northern industrialists came out ahead. The slaves, not so much.
Three decades later, the much-maligned Missouri Compromise allowed Missouri to become a slave state; in return, and to keep the number of slave and free states equal, Maine was carved out of Massachusetts and labeled “free.” This is another example of how our nation was glued together — by hacking away at fundamental values and principles.
Eventually both these early compromises were cast aside, for good reason. Compromise, often necessary to civility, is not appropriate in all situations. In business, yes. In relationships, yes. But not in the case of fundamental rights, when a compromise can mean minority views get thrown under the bus. The early constitutional compromises failed to hold because a deal that counted a human being as a fraction of one, or that extended slavery, was fundamentally untenable.
In early March, Republican North Carolina legislator Chuck McGrady sponsored what he called a compromise bill. It would have allowed colleges to expand their protected classes, and it set stricter penalties for crimes relating to bathroom privacy. But it would have subjected the rights of transgender people to a popular vote in certain instances. The bill failed, and I’m glad it did. Basic human rights are not matters for a popular vote — that way lies the “tyranny of the majority” that Founding Father John Adams warned against.
In an effort to understand how compromise might apply to HB2, I spoke with Tami Fitzgerald, the executive director of the North Carolina Values Coalition, a conservative advocacy group. Fitzgerald is well known for her opposition to anything pro-LGBT and has been outspoken in supporting HB2 because, as she told me, it protects “the privacy and safety of women and girls.” She also said in no uncertain terms that HB2 itself is “the compromise” to the local law in Charlotte that allowed transgender people to use the restroom that corresponds to their gender identity.
I asked her: Doesn’t a compromise have to feel mutual? “We all have our ideas about what compromise is,” she replied. “There are basic fundamental principles that must be in any compromise before we would accept it.”
Next I placed a call to Chris Brook, the legal director of the ACLU of North Carolina and one of the attorneys challenging HB2. “Why can’t we find a compromise on HB2?” I asked. “Compromise is entirely unnecessary,” he said. “We should not be negotiating around human rights, civil rights, for the LGBT community.”
Leaders on both sides are taking stands based on their principles, so compromise remains out of reach. Gandhi warned that “all compromise is based on give and take, but there can be no give and take on fundamentals. Any compromise on mere fundamentals is a surrender.” It was clear from my phone conversations that neither Fitzgerald nor Brook will surrender.
A new poll, however, throws a bit of light on the dim path ahead. HB2 remains deeply unpopular in the state, with only 24 percent of voters thinking it’s helping and 58 percent saying it’s hurting. With a majority of fair-minded citizens against HB2, there’s no reason to compromise on the rights of LGBT North Carolinians. Our transgender friends and relatives are not fractions, and their rights cannot be on the negotiating table. Just look to history to understand why.
Agree or disagree with my perspective? Let me know in the comments section below.
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