Obey the Sign

Bathroom-gender-sign

If you live in North Carolina, you’ve probably noticed a lot of people driving slower this week. Frustrating, no doubt. Suddenly you’re showing up to work five minutes late because you got stuck in traffic that wasn’t a thing yesterday.

But it’s not really traffic. There aren’t more cars on the road. It’s the same people, just driving slower.

Turns out Pat McCrory has decided our state needs to crack down on speeding. Under the direction of the Governor’s Highway Safety Program, law enforcement and highway patrols will be pulling people over for speeding as much as 1 mile-per-hour over the posted speed limit.

You’ve heard plenty of cutesy safety campaigns over the years. “Click It or Ticket.” “Booze It and Lose it.” Well the new thing is “Obey the Sign or Pay the Fine.”

This new initiative officially goes into effect today, Thursday March 24. My coworker said on his two-mile commute this morning he passed five people who had been pulled over. And there were more speed traps in that space that hadn’t been sprung.

According to the poll in that WRAL article, 81% of respondents drive somewhere between 1 and 9 mph over the speed limit, so I guess we all need to be careful now. Ol’ Pat’s got our priorities set, and they’re serious about it.

AP photo Pat McCrory.jpg
Photo: AP/Gerry Broome

Pat has other priorities, too, and lucky for him, there’s no speed limit in the North Carolina General Assembly. This week they passed a bill within the span of a day, and it was on Pat’s desk for him to sign it that very night. A single day. Boy, don’t ever let anyone tell you democracy is dysfunctional.

Turns out that bill was also about obeying signs, among other things, and the way Pat talks about it, it sure sounds great. “I have signed legislation passed by a bipartisan majority to stop this breach of basic privacy and etiquette which was to go into effect April 1,” he says.

Breach of privacy is definitely a hot button issue these days, especially after that whole Ed Snowden kerfuffle, but, oh, that’s not what he’s talking about.

He’s talking about an ordinance passed by the Charlotte City Council last month that would have provided anti-discrimination protections to LGBTQ persons in that area.

The Charlotte ordinance governed how businesses treat LGBTQ customers, explicitly preventing them from refusing service to these individuals. It also included a provision allowing transgender people to use restrooms that correspond to the gender they identify as, and that is where Pat’s hometown made a big no-no. Hence the “breach of basic privacy and etiquette.”

When Charlotte passed the ordinance in February, Pat was quick to warn them that they’d be hearing from his people come April, but his people decided they didn’t want to wait that long. Instead of waiting for the start of this year’s legislative session on April 15, the NCGA convened an emergency session (to the tune of $42,000 of taxpayer money).

Why was it an emergency? Well Charlotte’s ordinance was set to go into effect on April 1, so obviously they had to do something about that beforehand. Better to make sure gay and trans people don’t even get to taste what freedom from discrimination feels like. If they got to experience that, they might want more.

So how does the GA work during an emergency session? Fast. Way faster than 1 mph over the speed limit. Here’s the account from NC Senator Jeff Jackson from about midday, after the bill had already passed through the house:

Here’s what’s happening – at light speed – in the General Assembly’s “emergency” session right now.

In response to Charlotte’s anti-discrimination ordinance, a bill has been introduced that would eliminate every anti-discrimination ordinance *in the state* and remove any negative consequences for those who violate the state’s ban on racial and gender discrimination.

They are pushing this through as fast as possible. No one was allowed to see the bill until the committee met, then legislators were given 5 minutes to read it. It passed out of the committee and is now being debated on the House floor. It will almost certainly pass the House. Then it will be taken up in Senate committee, then to the Senate floor. All in one day.

If it becomes law, it means any business in the state can refuse service to any LGBT person – even by just posting a sign that says, “No Gays Allowed.” It is much broader than last year’s much-debated Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA), which at least required a “sincerely held religious belief” to refuse service. This includes no such requirement. Discriminate at will.

The press is just now waking up to the bait and switch that just occurred, which is why you haven’t heard much about this yet – but you will. This is going to be the broadest anti-LGBT legislation in the nation, and it will hurt our state deeply if it becomes law.

‪#‎WeAreNotThis‬

Emphasis added.

Well that certainly sounds bad. It’s worse, though. Here’s an excerpt from Chris Fitzsimon’s report on the proceedings:

No, the defining moment in what has to be one of the most offensive special legislative sessions in North Carolina history came in the House on amendment proposed by Rep. Grier Martin that would have broadened the state’s nondiscrimination law to include military status, sexual orientation and gender identity.

Martin’s proposal came after bill sponsor Rep. Dan Bishop boasted that the legislation, unveiled minutes before it was debated in a House committee, would establish a statewide nondiscrimination law that protects people in employment and public accommodations based on their race, religion, color, national origin, age, biological sex or disability.

Biological sex was added to make sure transgender people were not protected.

The ordinance passed by the Charlotte City Council also included protections based on sexual orientation and gender identity, in addition to the bathroom provision that was the subject of some of the worst demagoguery and fear-mongering to ever come out of the Legislative Building–and that’s quite a high bar to clear.

Bishop’s bill voids Charlotte’s protection of LGBT people from discrimination and prohibits any other local governments from protecting them either. That didn’t deter Bishop from repeatedly bellowing about what he called the historic statewide nondiscrimination standard the legislation established.

Martin’s amendment, the defining moment of the day, simply tried to broaden the basic protections to LGBT people across the state.

It is easy to describe the debate that followed. There wasn’t any. Rep. Paul Stam moved to table the proposal and the House voted 72-35 to kill the amendment.

That’s what the legislative record shows.

A 72-35 vote is more or less along party lines, although 10 Democrats are missing from that count. Curious. Aha, but the vote that actually passed the bill was 84-24. I guess those missing Dems weren’t hiding out in the bathroom.

The state senate then passed the bill 32-0 because Democrats walked out of the chamber in protest. Personally I would have preferred they stayed so that “Nay” would be on their record, but a handful are probably worried that opponents would use that against them this fall. Democrats in this state are far from perfect either.

While we’re counting, how do The People feel about all this? The legislature didn’t pause to ask us, but 64% of North Carolinians are in favor of protections for LGBTQ individuals like the ones Charlotte tried to cover. Not as high as it could be, but still encouraging for those of us living in one of the blue bubbles.

Roy Cooper photo Chris Seward N&O.jpg
Photo: News & Observer/Chris Seward

Roy Cooper, Democratic gubernatorial candidate and last hope to rescue us from the brink, was quick to make a statement condemning HB-2 and his opponent. I don’t know if you know this about our dear governor Pat, but he doesn’t really like criticism. He can be a bit sensitive.

In response, Pat’s campaign had the gall to pin the blame for this bill on Cooper, saying:

“Roy Cooper supports forcing women and young girls to use the same restrooms and locker rooms as grown men, all in the name of political correctness, and he refused to act as attorney general to protect our privacy and defend our state’s laws.”

Nice try, Pat. It’s the old “My AG won’t stick up for the discriminatory bile excreted by a legislative body I can’t control” doggerel all over again but with the foulness knob dialed up to “Did they really just conflate political correctness with wanting to give sex offenders a hall pass?” (No points for trying to erase trans people, though. That’s a stale move in the playbook of reactionary dogma.)

Flashback to a couple of years ago: The duty of the state’s Attorney General is to represent the state in all legal proceedings, as well as advise the legislature and governor on all questions of law as they are raised. Former US Attorney General Eric Holder said in 2014 that state AGs should not waste state resources (our money) defending laws they know are unconstitutional.

Cooper, who had initially defended NC Constitutional Amendment One (the one that banned gay marriage) despite personal opposition, dropped his defense after the 4th Circuit Court of Appeals struck down Virginia’s same-sex marriage ban. That would have been a real inconvenience for Pat and all his friends in the GA with all their “common sense” if they hadn’t already passed a bill allowing them to hire another lawyer to represent them in cases where the AG refused.

So now they’re once again crying about Roy not doing his job because obviously he should have shown up in Charlotte to personally spike that heinous ordinance into the ground.

What actually happened is Roy Cooper (AG, student of law, observer of evolving cultural norms, and decent human being) looked at the Charlotte ordinance, saw only a law that protects people from discrimination, and said “Yes, that checks out.” His official response is that sexual assault and indecent exposure are already illegal in this state, so those crimes can be tried if they occur.

Which they won’t.

North Carolina is only the most recent (and the most successful) case of “the bathroom myth” coming into play. Demagogues sewing fear against trans people by saying that it’s all a ruse for men to get into women’s locker rooms. It’s a ploy by sexual predators to gain access to exposed children. It’s definitely not about a continued effort to stigmatize trans folks.

But it is.

There’s no evidence that passing anti-discrimination laws leads to greater instances of sexual assault. Surveys and experts from the few states that already have those laws show how far that assertion strays from the truth.

Media Matters state experts LGBTQ anti-discrimination.jpg
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It’s a fabrication bought and sold by conservative idealogues and disseminated to the public for the sole purpose of passing bills like HB-2, and the NCGA took it, ran with it, and scored a touchdown home-run 4-point play.

So now all anti-discrimination laws in the state that go above the provisions listed in this bill are invalidated. This not only affects transgender individuals, but lesbian and gay people, too. There’s no mention of sexual orientation in the bill’s “protections.”

To be clear, I worry very little about myself. No cab service will refuse me a ride. No restaurant will turn me away. By luck, I’ve found a workplace that has no issue hiring gay people, but even more than that, I am not obvious.

I worry instead about people who have not found acceptance. I worry for the kid I was in high school, the one who lies awake at night trying to talk himself out of being gay. I worry for those growing up without hope, the ones who don’t believe it gets better because of laws like this one. I am worried for the lonely, the vulnerable, and the repressed who now live in a state with the most openly hostile LGBT legislation in the country.

And other states will follow suit. This type of legislation always has copycats. The very bill the NCGA passed yesterday is just an evolved form of the bill Arkansas passed a couple of months ago and a bill narrowly defeated last month in South Dakota.

Also, surprise! HB-2 prevents local governments from raising the minimum wage. Yeah, you can read the whole “Public Facilities Privacy and Security Act” right here, by the way. Part II is called “The Wage and Hour Act,” which declares “the wage levels of employees, hours of labor, payment of earned wages, and the well-being of minors” a matter of the state. What does that have to do with bathrooms? Your guess is as good as mine, but while they’re crushing the hopes of gay and trans people, they might as well stick it to the working class, too, right?

Oh, and they’ve set it up so that no one can file a civil suit for discrimination in state court. Here’s that little provision, underneath Part III: “This Article does not create, and shall not be construed to create or support, a statutory or common law private right of action, and no person may bring any civil action based upon the public policy expressed herein.”

And in the face of all this, our calm and collected governor would like us to remember our priorities. Quoth McCrory: “It is now time for the city of Charlotte elected officials and state elected officials to get back to working on the issues most important to our citizens.”

Yes, those most important issues. What were those again?

No, not that one.

(I work with three former NC teachers who can tell you all about why this is a terrible place to work in education.)

Business Insider NC Sea Level Rise Study Ban
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Nope, not that one either.

ThinkProgress NC Gerrymandering Lawsuit Headline
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No wait, that’s still not right.

Washington Post NC Voter ID Lawsuit excerpt
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Hmm.

What should the priorities of North Carolinians be exactly? Obeying the speed limit, I guess.

And voting the people responsible for these things out of office.

If you feel compelled to throw money at the problem, I recommend Equality NC. They’ll do more than a national group would.

More than that I would urge you to share this post, or write your own and share that. Tell your neighbor, your parents, your friends what is going on and why it can’t be allowed to stand. Resist the urge to yell. Sometimes you have to speak softly to get people to listen.