I live in Durham, NC, which is a wonderful city in a wonderful part of the country. If at all possible, I’d like to stay here for a reasonable amount of time. Maybe until I die? Who knows! The point is, I’m not a hater. I went to school here, and I moved back a few years later because I like it so much. Further, the state of North Carolina is a beautiful place with lots of geographical and human diversity. If I were Donald Trump, I would conclude this disclaimer by saying, “look, it’s a good place. It’s a fun place. It’s a tremendous state, okay? It really is. I mean it.”
At the same time, the Republicans who control state politics manage to embarrass themselves and the entire region with mind-numbing frequency, and it is bringing me down. For the past few years, I seem to wake up at least once a week to an editorial in a major national newspaper taking North Carolina to task for some new piece of horrific, discriminatory legislation. Each time, it gets harder and harder to defend the state, and each time, GOP lawmakers seem to be pushing us closer and closer to some kind of bizarre, fanatical dystopia.
If you’ve followed southern politics at all in the past two decades, you know the form this GOP maneuvering takes: On a social level, they hate abortions and gay people and immigrants. On an economic level, they hate taxes for rich people, they loathe spending even a nickel for education, and they even throw in some batshit policy ideas like privatizing city water systems and municipal airports. On a political level, they took gerrymandering to absurd extremes by drawing an entire congressional district along I-85, so as to keep lots of black people from affecting any other race.
It’s a fucking nightmare, all the time, and it’s an enduring one. It’s gotten so bad that they can’t even choose a poet laureate without making us an object of national mockery.
Now, usually I ignore state politics. Aside from an angry Facebook post or two directed at the echo chamber of my liberal friends, I hesitate to chime in. I’m from New York, and even among fellow progressives, I’ve found that there’s a lingering, polite-but-firm rejection of northern interference. As in, “we love that you’re here, but there’s a part of us that will always see you as a smug elitist carpetbagger if you criticize our institutions—even if we totally agree with you.” Which is fair. Southerners are a tribe, and it’s beautiful, and I’d probably be annoyed too if someone took shots at my family. Even the racist drunk uncle who screams like a banshee every time Obama’s face appears on television.
But holy shit, House Bill 2 is a new level of disgusting. House Bill 2 should shatter the silence. If you haven’t yet heard about this latest piece of legislative madness, which was signed into law last Wednesday, I really recommend you read the excellent FAQ by Aaron Keck at Chapelboro.com. It’s so good. The quick summary is that in the most narrow sense, HB2 prevents anyone from using a bathroom that doesn’t match his or her birth gender. This is absolutely necessary, the thinking goes, in order to keep creepy, perverted men from claiming to be women so that they can use the ladies room to do creepy, perverted things. Hard to argue that, right?! I mean, what’s your deal, guy? Why do you hate protecting women and children?!?
Get beyond this bullshit justification, though, and it’s just a plain old bigoted-as-hell statewide ban on anti-discrimination laws. Here’s what it really says:
1. It’s illegal to discriminate on the basis of a bunch of commonly accepted traits like race and religion, but—oops!—we forgot to add sexual orientation, so by our clever omission, that is no longer a protected category. Fired for being gay? Denied service at a lunch counter? Can’t buy a nice house? Too bad!
2. PS, the discriminators don’t even need a religious reason. They can just hate gays for any old reason at all. Maybe they’re plain old homophobes, or helly, maybe they just don’t like words that start with ‘g’ and end with ‘y.’ Now, that’s totally cool—they can discriminate against gays, guppys, and dudes named Gary. Their prerogative.
3. And by the way, this new law supersedes any local ordinance, so if your city passed a non-discrimination clause to protect the LGBT community, that’s now off the books.
4. And by the way again, you’re not allowed to pass any other discrimination laws going forward.
5. Also, you can’t sue for discrimination at the state level anymore. We’re joining Mississippi as the only state with that kind of law on the books. Instead, you can appeal to a “Human Relations Commission,” which will probably be controlled by Republicans, and will ignore you.
6. Finally, just for the fuck of it, local governments can no longer pass any legislation that raise wage levels (in other words, Durham or Charlotte will not be the next Seattle), or strengthens child labor laws, or really does anything to protect workers. This has nothing to do with gay people, but we just hate to miss an opportunity to screw over the working class and the poor.
North Carolina Republicans pushed this through the state House and Senate in a surprise legislative blitzkrieg last week, and Senate Democrats had no other option but to walk out in protest—which didn’t matter, because they’re outnumbered in both chambers. Governor Pat McCrory signed it into law that day, and the fallout has been swift. Local and state governments in San Francisco, Seattle, and New York have already banned “non-essential” state travel to North Carolina.
Most recently, the state’s attorney general, a Democrat, has said he won’t defend the state when the inevitable lawsuits come pouring in. There have been countless protests, including one yesterday where a thousand UNC-Chapel Hill students flooded the town’s main street to bring traffic to a halt. Local and national business have issued critical statements, professional sports leagues have threatened to withdraw big events, and in general—silver lining?—the country seems to have been galvanized by the surprise legislation.
At the head of this controversy, and every other controversy in this politically blighted state, is McCrory himself—a man who, in the year 2016, inspires actual protest songs. As Governor, he has presided over each successive embarrassment with no apparent sense of shame. The sad part is, this guy ran as a “moderate Republican” before understanding that in order to maintain support, he had to indulge the politics of hatred and discrimination. I can’t prove this, but I really, really doubt he gives two shits about who uses what bathroom. I bet that deep down, he’s not even that bigoted. He’s just compliant with those who are for simple political expediency. Which, along with being a hateful, lying doofus, makes him a coward.
And it’s this cowardice which aggravates me more than anything. If you hate gay people and want to deny them basic rights, well, I don’t agree with that position. But at least own it! Show your true face, say you’re doing God’s work or whatever, and stop hiding your rabid, awful bigotry behind these obfuscating issues. Sure, it’s smart politically to bury your hatred beneath a dog-whistle issue like “creepy dudes pretending to be trans to use women’s bathrooms,” but why not have the courage of your convictions? Why do you have to compound the error of being on the wrong side of history with not even having the cojones to defend your position out in the open?
My animus, I admit, comes most recently from a video McCrory put out via his YouTube page. Watch it below—it has the added bonus of going out of focus every time he lies, which is always:
Let’s fisk this baby. McCrory’s comments in bold, paraphrased, my replies after:
0:00—0:30: “The people of North Carolina are awesome and nice and work together and represent everything wholeseome and wonderful and blahbety fucking blah.”
0:30—1:00: “Anyone who disagrees with me is a rude asshole, and not a real North Carolinian. No true Scotsman would ever deny that I’m just a hero Christian political warrior.”
1:00—1:30: “For gosh sakes, all I want to do is protect women and children while they use bathrooms!”
Going back to Keck, I want to emphasize an important point: THIS IS NOT AN ACTUAL PROBLEM. It has literally happened one time in America, as far as anyone knows, and it seems like that was a Republican protest of the law, so it doesn’t even count. This is just like the “voter fraud” legislation Republicans keep passing in order to make it harder for minorities to vote. It follows the same exact pattern: Drum up anxiety about a non-issue (actual voter fraud is so uncommon as to be essentially nonexistent), pass discriminatory laws. Hot take: We should probably stop letting them do that.
Also, let’s be blunt: The transgender people that are protected by these local ordinances often look wayyy more like the gender they’ve transitioned into than their birth gender, which would actually make it weirder if they had to use the birth gender bathroom. Like, do we really want a muscular dude with a beard using the women’s bathroom at a children’s park because he happened to be born a woman? Is that really the desired outcome here? (On that note, take this fun quiz to see if you can differentiate!)
Finally, there is no way to ever enforce this stupid law, and even the North Carolina Republicans don’t claim to have a way. They’re not even going to try. All of which proves that the real motivation behind the bill has zero to do with bathrooms.
1:30—1:50: “Why do people have to find conflict all the time? What’s with all the conflict? Why can’t they just do their jobs, by which I mean resign themselves to my hate-filled agenda and roll over like pathetic dying dogs?”
1:50—2:10: “You guys still hate Obama, right? Here’s some anti-Obama stuff to get you riled up: Dude is trying to keep our waters from being polluted when we have a God-given right to pollute them if we want.”
Obama sure is black, I’ll give him that.
2:10—3:00: “This attorney general, Roy Cooper, is refusing to protect bathroom privacy! Where does that son of a bitch get off? I mean, look, it’s not that I don’t understand the deep desire to maintain just a shred of integrity so that you’re not consumed by total self-loathing every morning when you stare at your corrupt, evil face in the mirror, but come on! This is politics, baby! Sack up!”
3:00—3:30: “Come on, Roy. If I’m going to steer the ship of state into the nearest iceberg, I’m pretty sure it’s written somewhere that you’ve got sink into the icy waters with me. Remember the Battle of Gettysburg, when General Pickett kept ordering his soldiers to charge the union lines, even though all of them were getting killed and there was no real possibility of gaining anything? Those soldiers kept charging, Roy. And they all died. And the south lost that battle, and then the war. So, uh…wait, I forgot where I was going with this.”
3:30—4:00: “On some level, I recognize that the bill the General Assembly wrote up and presented is just batshit crazy, and Jesus, I really wish they hadn’t because I know it makes me look like a total goober. All I ever wanted, you guys, was to eliminate taxes for rich people and to put all poor people, regardless of race, religion, and yes, sexual orientation, into disgusting polluted shantytowns with no plumbing. I’m just a businessman! I don’t want to deal with any of this! All I want is to protect big money, and believe me, there are a lot of super-rich people who are gay, secretly or otherwise. I don’t hate them! I don’t hate them at all, and I’m living out my political nightmare right now. At the same time, I don’t have anywhere near the courage to stand up for what’s right, because that would eliminate my current powers. And without those powers, how could I decimate labor unions and turn teachers into wage slaves and build a gigantic moat around the rich part of Charlotte and frack the fuck out of our land so that the blood of our children and grandchildren will be 90 percent gasoline?”
Food for thought.
4:00—4:30: “I’d like to get rid of this stupid law, believe me, but let’s do it slowly so my poor, white, conservative constituency doesn’t realize I’m consigning them to total economic irrelevance while I throw them a bone on social issues once in a while. Which is basically what my party has been doing for 40 years. PS, anyone know why we’re being rejected nationally in favor of Donald Trump? I’m so stumped!”
4:30—4:35: “North Carolina is a state of inclusiveness.”
Haha. I’m glad he’s kept his sense of humor.
4:35—5:06: “Here’s some more hunky-dory shit about how great the people are, and also some God stuff. Bye.”
Look, serious note: This will get overturned by the Supreme Court, because it’s clearly motivated by “animus” in the same way we saw in mid-’90s Colorado. That law was struck down in Romer v. Evans, and the same thing will happen here. Eventually.
In the meantime, those of us in North Carolina have to live in a political climate replete with hatred and bigotry. And the one man who could fight it, if he had any backbone, is a lying, cowardly doofus. It sucks.