I have been praying and studying for 6 days about a thoughtful response to the North Carolina General Assembly’s most recent work, House Bill 2. I have wrestled with whether to say anything or not, and my intent is not to offend or upset anyone. But I have been bothered since I began reading about what happened in Raleigh last week. And when something lingers like that in my conscience, that means I need to say something.
Let me start by saying I have indeed read HB2, as well as numerous pieces about the bill from all perspectives. I am trying hard to understand what was done and why. And I must confess I am left befuddled and hugely disappointed. I believe this is politics at its worst. And I am embarrassed for our state.
So here are bullet points to frame my understanding of House Bill 2:
-The City of Charlotte passed a city ordinance to go in effect March 31, 2016 that would allow people to choose the public restroom they felt most comfortable using, meaning a transgender person could choose the restroom of the gender with which they identified.
-The North Carolina General Assembly called a special session last week in order to repeal the Charlotte City ordinance before it went into effect.
-The law that was passed requires people to use the public restroom that matches the gender listed on their birth certificate.
-This does not affect restrooms in businesses or private institutions.
-If someone has undergone a sex change operation they can legally change the gender on their birth certificate. (Current law – not part of HB2)
-This bill also added a section that prohibits cities and counties from setting their own minimum wage and sets the state minimum wage at $7.25, the current state and federal minimum wage.
-Another section of the bill prevents workers from suing in state courts on any alleged discrimination based on “age, race, sex, disability, national origin and religion”. Only federal courts based on federal laws are available to fight employment discrimination should it occur in NC.
-The legislation was given out to lawmakers the same day the vote was called giving no time to study and vet the implications of the bill.
As I have reflected on this action and studied what happened I am deeply disturbed on a couple of levels. The reasoning behind the urgency of this legislation per numerous supporters of the bill was to protect women and children from predators in public bathrooms. If that is genuinely the case then why include the limitation on raising minimum wage? What does minimum wage have to do with bathrooms and gender? Is that not state government exerting itself on local authorities telling them what they can and cannot do- something that seems contrary to the values of Republican leaders in charge in our state? That is confusing to me.
Our leaders say we can’t have a patchwork of different rules and regulations across the state, that it is too hard on businesses. But on a local level, we already do have different rules and regulations statewide. Building codes, health codes, zoning and planning codes all differ town to town, city to city and county to county. That’s because each locality has a different set of needs and different levels of development and different populations, and they serve those constituents as they see fit. I don’t see how HB2 enhances business in this context.
Maybe HB 2 is nothing more than another skirmish in the urban versus rural battle that is playing out in our state capitol. That battle has included everything from sales tax allocation to local control of airports. But I’m afraid it’s not. Throughout some of the public discourse is the underlying insinuation that gay men or transgender people are sexual predators who prey on children. Of course this is patently false and totally baseless. Why do we as a society segregate a minority group by manufacturing fictitious threats and make them the boogyman? Is it mere politics at its worst or something darker within ourselves?
And, why say that the only employment discrimination claims that can be made are race, sex, religion and age (clearly excluding sexual orientation), and that state courts can’t be used to pursue claims, that you have to resort to federal court? North Carolina and Mississippi are now the only 2 states in the Union that no longer provide state court protection against discrimination. Is that retaliation against the City of Charlotte? I don’t understand why any of this wound up in the legislation.
So to me, this feels like so much more than a safety issue concerning transgender people and which bathroom they can use. It feels like pretext. It feels like a step backwards in public discourse, policy making and statesmanship. It appears to me that this is going to hurt our state economically. Consider the national reaction to boycotting the Furniture Market- an already struggling industry that could negatively impact High Point’s and the Triad’s economy. Some scoff as large, multi-national companies and organizations like Bank of America, Facebook, Apple, Google, Wells Fargo, American Airlines, Starbucks, the NBA and the NCAA are condemning HB2. But sometimes an outsider needs to hold the mirror up to your face and show you things you don’t like or don’t want to admit.
And as a spiritual leader, I am struggling to discern where Jesus would land in the midst of this mess. I don’t see a lot of love in play. How we treat one another matters. How we solve problems matters. How we disagree with one another matters. How we balance safety and protection of all people – women, children and transgender people matters. How we get along in the cities and in the rural communities matters. Surely we could have done a better job than this. I speak as a Christian, not as a Republican, Democrat or Independent. And because I am a Jesus follower, my heart is heavy over this.
Praying for Peace,