The past couple of days have brought a wave of backlash against a new North Carolina law that bars local governments from extending civil rights protections to gay and transgender people and prohibits transgender people from using public bathrooms according to their gender identity.
The issue ignited a torrent of reaction on social media. American Airlines, Wells Fargo, Lowe’s and the National Basketball Association are among the companies and organizations that have raised concerns about the measure, which passed both houses during a special session of the legislature this week and was promptly signed into law by Gov. Pat McCrory (R). Hundreds of protesters flocked to downtown Raleigh to demonstrate in front of the executive mansion; a handful were arrested after apparently chaining themselves to one another in the street. Advocacy groups said the law unfairly demonizes the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender community.
The Republican-controlled legislature backed the law in order to override a local ordinance passed by officials in Charlotte. That measure would have expanded civil rights protections for individuals on the basis of marital status, sexual orientation, and gender identity or expression. It also would have allowed transgender people to use bathrooms aligned with their gender identity, rather than the gender on their birth certificate.
Supporters of the law argued that action was necessary to rein in local governments from overreaching in their authority, and to protect women and children. The new law forbids municipalities from passing their own anti-discrimination rules; rather, it imposes a statewide standard that leaves out sexual orientation and gender identity. It also prohibits county and city governments from requiring local businesses to pay a minimum wage above the current state level of $7.25 per hour. In tweets this week, McCrory said he signed the legislation “to stop the breach of basic privacy and etiquette, ensure privacy in bathrooms and locker rooms.” He said Charlotte’s ordinance “defied common sense, allowing men to use women’s bathroom/locker room for instance.”
As the old saying goes, all politics is local. Despite the swift national reaction to the new law, newspapers across North Carolina also had plenty to say about the state becoming the first in the country to ban students and others from using restrooms that match with their gender identity if it clashes with their birth certificates. Here’s a sampling:
The Charlotte Observer said McCrory had joined “a dark list of Southern governors”:
It was about a governor who decided his state will sanction discrimination against not only transgender people, but all homosexuals. It was about a governor who thinks it’s acceptable to make it harder for black men and women to sue for employment discrimination.
It was, in the end, about a 21st century governor who joined a short, tragic list of 20th century governors. You know at least some of these names, probably: Wallace, Faubus, Barnett. They were men who fed our worst impulses, men who rallied citizens against citizens, instead of leading their states forward. …
… Once again, we are a state that is notably choosing discrimination, just as North Carolina did in 2012 when it was the final state to pass an amendment banning same-sex marriage.
This week, as then, North Carolina needed a leader who understood the damage this law might do — most importantly to its vulnerable citizens, but also to the face we present to businesses and workers considering our state.
Instead we got a late-night bill signing Wednesday and some campaign tweets. We got a state newly stained, and a governor joining a sorrowful list of those who decided not to lead us forward, but to bow to the worst in us.
The Greensboro News & Record called the law “a power play by conservative legislators, many from small towns, to rein in progressive cities”:
In North Carolina, however, it’s painfully obvious that official state policy is hostile to the gay and transgender communities. From Amendment One to a law allowing state officials to refuse to facilitate legal same-sex marriages to, now, repealing local protections against discrimination, the state of North Carolina has made it abundantly clear that this population is unwelcome — whatever attitudes cities hold to the contrary.
It’s disappointing that Gov. Pat McCrory immediately signed the bill. A sweeping measure with statewide impact was introduced, voted on and signed into law all in one day, with virtually no time allowed for public and business input — although major corporations are sounding alarms now.
It was a sad day for North Carolina and its cities.
The Asheville Citizen-Times said lawmakers had chosen to demonize some of their own constituents:
The issue here is fodder for political ads and fundraising, featuring lurid fears about a group that is at best misunderstood and at worst ostracized, a group with few defenders that is custom-made to demonize.
The LBGT community is, as was often the case with the Amendment One debate, essentially being equated with child molesters. …
… It’s no surprise they’re hoping to find a group less popular than themselves to be the attention of the public’s focus.
They need a devil. Sadly, they’ve decided their own constituents will suffice.
The News & Observer in Raleigh wrote that the special session itself “illustrates the flaws of a legislature led by extremists”:
Polls indicate that most North Carolinians don’t share the Republican lawmakers’ alarm. They think it’s better to let a local government decide the bathroom-choice issue, or to settle the matter through a local referendum. Meanwhile, 17 states and more than 200 cities and towns have passed non-discrimination laws protecting gender identity in public spaces.
And there is, of course, the irony of these Republican lawmakers rushing to Raleigh to protect children in the bathroom after they’ve done so little to help them in the classroom, or in life in general. That 1 in 4 North Carolina children live in poverty, that many lack access to pre-K and after-school programs, that many children’s families would be helped by the expansion of Medicaid and the restoration of the Earned Income Tax Credit have not spurred the legislature to action.
All of this would seem to suggest that holding a special session on this matter — particularly over the objection of the governor, who usually calls for such sessions — is a complete waste of time and money. But there is one value in this special session. It will show in its discriminating, single-issue fixation the recklessness and foolishness of the Republican leaders and those who follow them.
The flaws of this session will not be obscured by double-talk about education funding and fairy tales about trickle-down tax cuts. This will be about one thing, and that thing will not be about bathrooms. It will be about legislative incompetence, how much it has cost North Carolina’s people and how much it has diminished the state’s appeal as a welcoming and progressive place.
Even college newspapers quickly weighed in on the controversial measure. The editorial page editor of the Duke Chronicle wrote that the law amounted to “a veritable cocktail brew of transphobia, homophobia and classism.” Eight miles down the road, the Daily Tar Heel essentially told the state’s leaders to grow up:
It is time for our North Carolina legislature to mature, to improve, to move beyond fear as an impetus to discriminate and start to do what is ethical. It is time to end the discrimination against black, trans, queer, disabled and indigenous communities. It is time for justice. …
… This bill is wrong beyond repair. This law is a chapter in America’s horror story. The very notion that this bill could in any way serve the public or securitize the public from an ominous threat is outlandish. Instead of focusing on the “biological sex” of a person, might we empathize and work to include those who are different from us in body and mind in our public spaces.
Of course, similar criticisms have come from outside North Carolina’s borders. The New York Times, in an editorial Friday, insisted the new law makes the state a “pioneer in bigotry.” The Virginian-Pilot argued the law “tarnishes” North Carolina’s reputation. “Once the epitome of egalitarian governance, North Carolina finds itself the subject of ridicule and derision, in this case wholly deserved,” the paper wrote.
McCrory, a former Charlotte mayor who is running for reelection this year, has remained resolute. In statements to media outlets, his campaign has said that “standing with North Carolina parents who are worried about the privacy and safety of their children will always be a top priority for the governor, no matter the spin by the media, pundits or politically correct crowd.”