Living in Chapel Hill may put me in the most liberal county in all of North Carolina, but that doesn’t diminish the shame I feel for residing in a state that the New York Times coined as a “Pioneer in Bigotry.” It’s a title earned, given the discrimanation that North Carolina legislators continue introducing into law that undermine equal treatment for all.
Discrimination is intolerable, regardless of personal and religious beliefs. Period.
In 2012, we had Amendment 1 that proposed language in the North Carolina Constitution that made it unconstitutional for the state to recognize or perform same-sex marriages or civil unions. Voters approved the amendment, 61.04% to 38.9% in a hotly debated, highly publicized election. When I learned that the Raleigh Diocese gave $100,000 to one of the organizations promoting the passage of Amendment 1, I called the local Catholic church where our family is registered and had my name removed from the membership roster. I never returned.
On October 10, 2014, the amendment was found unconstitutional by a federal court.
Still, bigots prevailed.
When the city of Charlotte passed an antidiscrimination ordinance in February 2016, State lawmakers threw together an unconstitutional bill in less than a month to bar transgender people from using public restrooms that match their gender identity and to prohibit cities from passing antidiscrimination ordinances that protect gay and transgender people.
As the New York Times reported, “Gov. Pat McCrory, who signed the bill into law…said it was necessary to undo Charlotte’s ordinance, which included protections for gay and transgender people, because it allowed ‘men to use women’s bathroom/locker room’.”
Having been a diversity practitioner in a global organization for a dozen years, I only have one explanation for this — ignorance.
Facts: A transgender woman is a woman. A transgender man is a man.
It’s no surprise that the Justice Department has now issued a warning to my awkwardly infamous state explaining that it risks losing millions of dollars in federal funding because of its discrimination against transgender people. What a shame that ignorance jeopardizes education and social programs which, obviously, our state desperately needs.
My son Nate, who has the Universal Logo for Human Rights tattooed on his left
wrist, is more optimistic than I am. “Good things are happening as a result of this,” he said. “Governor McCrory has changed his position on some key issues affecting the transgender community because of the backlash he has received.”
“The wrong thing should have never been done to start with,” I retorted.
I guess Nate has a point in that people don’t know what they don’t know. At least in all this hubbub, one can hope that North Carolinians (especially our legislators) can put aside their “beliefs” contributing to discriminatory legislation and consider how equality under the law can include everyone.
In the spirit of inclusion I’ve invited Nate to share his perspective. Not only does he speak more diplomatically than I, he certainly shows more patience for the disillusioned….
A Note from Nate
I think that Americans spend a lot of time thinking about how their particular view of the world is correct. It is certainly easier to take a stance for or against something if we are unwavering in our conviction. I think it’s important to take a step back and ask yourself how you would go about resolving differences between conflicting interests rather than fighting for a winner-takes-all scenario.
I agree that this law is bad news. Its implication can be disheartening for members of the transgender community. But there is still a subset of the population which does not view a transgender man as a man or a transgender woman as a woman. For those people it can be unsettling to think that a member of the opposite sex might be sitting in the stall next to you. If these preconceived notions of appropriate gender separation did not exist, then gender-specific bathrooms would not exist.
How might we, as a society, integrate members of the trans community into our traditionally biased bathrooms? Republican legislators in North Carolina chose to outlaw any kind of intermingling while Democrats (in an election year) have naturally taken up the opposite end advocating for full integration. No matter what your particular view of the situation, there must be an understanding that others see things differently. To that end, I advocate that we address both the concerns of the fearful while providing for the desires of the affected community.
In the hope that full integration might be achieved in the future, we can pressure legislators to make special accommodations for members of the trans community. Already, the backlash has caused Governor McCrory to sign an executive order which secures protections for transgender government employees. We might also see the veto of HB 757 “religious liberty bill” by Georgia’s Republican Governor, Nathan Deal, coming just days after the North Carolina controversy began as a positive message that the South will not act as a block in discriminating against the LGBT community. These unexpected outcomes have actually given freedoms to the trans community not previously recognized by legislators in the South.
We can continue to push for mutually agreeable laws such as mandating that business have at least X number of dedicated family or trans-friendly bathrooms. This may bring up the a visual of segregation and separate-but-equal but I view it as an interim step which allows our society to step together in the right direction.
In conclusion I am reminded of, and would like to cite, my favorite civil rights activists, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. who said,
The arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends towards justice.
Let’s bend the arc in the right direction… together.
Sheila Callaham is a best selling author, speaker, and life coach who believes that once a diversity practitioner, always a diversity practitioner. She is a proponent of equal and inclusive treatment for all people.
Nate Gay is a recent graduate in Spanish and Political Science from NC State University. He is a part-time web designer and travel enthusiast promoting worldwide peace, human rights, and community service.