Saturday, April 16, 2016


My adopted state of North Carolina has been quite prominent of late in the national news. Unfortunately, all that attention is due to a less-than-admirable controversial reason. In a special session, our state legislature recently passed a bill – “HB2” – that has a significant impact on both individual human rights as well as county/city governance. The content of this bill, and the process by which it was adopted, may be specific to North Carolina. However, the underlying principles involved are worthy of attention across the country.

HB2 has been called “the bathroom bill,” as it was triggered in response to the passing of a city ordinance in Charlotte to allow transgender people to utilize the public male/female restroom that they “identify with.” It was understandably a controversial decision in Charlotte, but was passed in a well-intended attempt to be supportive to one of the many difficulties faced by transgender people. Whether it was an appropriate response to those needs relative to the concerns of the non-transgender public is not the focus of this blog posting. Rather, this posting is about the extreme over-reaction to that ordinance by an hysterical legislature and governor.

If the legislation was genuinely concerned with transgender “men” using “women’s” restrooms (and vice versa), a specific law could have been passed overriding the Charlotte ordinance. The state constitution grants legislative law preemptive authority over county/city governments. Instead, the Legislature used the Charlotte ordinance as a cover story to go far beyond the specific and localized “transgender bathrooms in Charlotte” headline to also effectively prohibit counties and cities statewide from adopting any discrimination or economic rules beyond the minimalistic statutes in place at the state level.

Under the cover of some negative public reaction to sharing bathrooms with transgender persons, the Legislature restricted shared bathrooms in public facilities (e.g. government offices and public schools) to one’s biological sex as stated on the birth certificate. In addition, the statute included four broader restrictions:

1. prohibits locally passed non-discrimination policies that protect the rights of LBGT people;

2. bans local governments from setting wage or working conditions with its vendors;

3. prohibits local governments from establishing their own anti-discrimination policies – based upon race, natural origin, age, disability, gender or religion – beyond state standards;

4. prohibits citizens who believed they have been discriminated against from suing in state court. It also neutered the state Human Relations Commission to only “using its good offices to effect an amicable resolution of the complaints of discrimination.”
While LGBT persons are never overtly mentioned in the bill’s language, the law represents yet another rear-guard battleground against that community in the aftermath of the gay marriage decision. It also adds yet another homage to some in the business community of North Carolina by incorporating completely unrelated restrictions on employment and wages – neither of which have much to do with restrooms. These add-on items affect everyone within all current “protected groups.” These hidden onerous provisions of HB2 are the larger issue of this controversial law.
The specifics of the bill are distasteful on their face. But the process of the bill’s passage creates yet another case for strenuously opposing this law. The bill was introduced in the House on March 23rd in a special legislative session called for this topic. There was little advance notice and no legitimate public comment. It passed that morning and went to the Senate, which passed it in the afternoon. The Governor then signed it into law during the evening. One day and done, in record time. Voting House and Senate Republicans supported the bill unanimously as a block; the Republican governor – a former mayor of Charlotte – signed it with no reservations about content or process.
It was all a show of political domination done in virtual secrecy at warp speed, obliterating the usual snail’s pace decision process inherently built into state governance. But this was also a continuation of reactive government pandering and sledgehammer politics. In 2012, a similar legislature passed a constitutional amendment prohibiting gay marriage that followed a similar process of legislative deception and arrogance. Ultimately it was all for naught when a U.S. circuit judge ruled the amendment unconstitutional two years later, a decision subsequently upheld by the U.S. Supreme Court. A lot of time, money, and good faith was wasted in that false pursuit. A similar waste is likely to follow with HB2.
HB2 is simply yet another battlefront in the continuing dead-end war over acceptance of the LGBT population within our larger community. It follows Indiana and Georgia’s attempts under a “religious freedom” heading to condone discrimination in the public place, a tactic now under active consideration in Mississippi, Arkansas, Michigan and Tennessee. Indiana and Georgia got shot down in their efforts by a surprisingly forceful stand from a wide swath of corporate America, using economic and/or job pressure to reverse this exercise before it even made it into the inevitable court lawsuits. A similar economic counterattack against HB2 is now occurring against a North Carolina state government that has claimed jobs and economic growth as its central priority. It is currently unclear whether corporate and public efforts will succeed in a similar reversal.
The transgender bathroom is a difficult issue for many citizens on both sides of this issue, and may be an issue that is too far a stretch at this particular moment in our society’s continual development. In a less polarized and politicized environment some better alternative or transitional solutions could have been developed by thoughtful people not rushing into action. HB2 is by no means any such thoughtful conclusion. And by going far beyond the restroom issue into the broader arena of overall human rights and workplace conditions, the Legislature showed its true colors and invalidated its whole involvement in the original subject.
The national Republican Party has long claimed to be the party for limited government intrusion into our lives. This Republican-dominated  legislature has consistently repudiated that claim by its micromanagement of local governments and individual citizens in instances far too numerous to itemize here. If these politicians had truly wanted to deal with transgender restroom issues, it could have opted to do so directly. If it wanted to protect businesses from discrimination lawsuits, and prevent local governments from managing their own affairs and making their own social and economic decisions, it could have been courageous and honest enough to do so separately and openly. Instead, they have displayed a glaring hypocrisy within a shadowy secrecy and a rejection of an open democratic process. North Carolina’s government deserves the national scorn and resistance that it is receiving.
©   2016   Randy Bell