In a desperate attempt to revive his sinking campaign, Ted Cruz is playing the “transgender bathroom” card in Indiana. With his 5- and 7-year-old daughters in hand, and in a stunning display of ignorance and demagoguery, Mr. Cruz said Tuesday, “If the law says that any man, if he chooses, can enter a women’s restroom, a little girls’ restroom, and stay there, and he cannot be removed because he simply says at that moment he feels like a woman, you’re opening the door for predators.” Such ill-informed views about transgender people recently propelled North Carolina legislators to pass that state’s now-notorious House Bill 2.
North Carolina’s House Bill 2 is not only bad for transgender people in need of a bathroom. It is alarmingly detrimental to the working people of North Carolina and removes all reasonable relief from discrimination for every threatened minority in the state. And just for good measure, it is a power grab by the state legislature. Un-American by almost any standard.
The most infamous part of HB 2 addresses the use of public bathrooms and declares that anyone using such a facility must use the bathroom of the gender assigned to them at birth—whether or not that is still the gender by which he or she identifies. The stated reason for this provision, found in the bill’s official “short title,” is “privacy and security.”
This provision of the bill is a solution in search of a problem. There is simply no evidence that either privacy or security is in jeopardy in public restroom facilities. What is in evidence is the distress that the conservative and religious Right feels at having lost the battle over gay marriage and moreover the campaign to cast gay and lesbian people as a menace to society in general, and children in particular. There is hardly anyone left in America that doesn’t know some family member, co-worker, or former classmate to be gay or lesbian—and they now know the awful things attributed to them by religious conservatives to be false.
Having lost the gay debate, the Religious Right has now turned on transgender people as its next target. Fewer Americans actually know someone transgender (or at least know they know someone transgender). Lies about them work with those who don’t recognize the insinuations and accusations as lies.
Transgender people do not go into bathrooms corresponding to their gender identity in order to abuse children. Some notoriously abusive Roman Catholic priests have done so. According to a recent criminal sentencing, so has former Speaker of the House Denny Hastert. But not transgender people.
In their successful recent attempt to defeat the referendum on the Houston Equal Rights Ordinance, conservative forces ran a despicable ad showing a creepy (and presumably heterosexual) old man with lipstick smeared on his face, following a young girl into a women’s bathroom. Presidential candidate Ted Cruz thumps on his chest and declares that he will protect his daughters from such an assault in public bathrooms. And yet, there is no evidence that such a threat exists from transgender people.
And so, the North Carolina legislature finds a “solution” to a problem that does not exist, and in doing so, further endangers an already-vulnerable group of people. With House Bill 2, this group of ignorant-at-best legislators increases the likelihood of violence against transgender people, while ensuring further indignity and psychological harm to them, even if not accompanied by physical violence. This is official and legislated bullying on a governmental scale.
While the North Carolina legislature is busy at the task of putting transgender people in danger, it takes the opportunity to launch a preemptive strike against any local municipality who would offer local protections for its own vulnerable citizens or mandate a higher minimum wage for its workers. This action is taken, mind you, by a legislature controlled by allegedly small-government, local-control Republicans.
The purpose of government has always been the protection of those governed, not their exploitation and endangerment. The spectre of a government explicitly outlawing local protections of citizens is too bizarre for words. The abiding purpose of any capitalist society is the increasing well-being of its workers, not the limitation of wages to be earned.
And just to make this un-American legislative action even more complete, the North Carolina HB 2 disallows any redress of discrimination in the state courts. This forces any citizens who believe they have been discriminated against into the more expensive, more onerous federal court process.
Ironically, the first person penalized by this inability to claim discrimination in the state courts was not a transgender person, but rather a (presumably heterosexual) worker who seems to have been fired because of his age. Rick Copeland, an employee of BB&T bank, believes he was fired because he “was the oldest guy making the most money.” Because of House Bill 2, Copeland has been forced to seek redress for his alleged age discrimination in the federal courts, being precluded from doing so in the state court system.
The business and entertainment communities are expressing their disfavor with North Carolina’s House Bill 2 by rethinking, curtailing, or completely withdrawing their participation in the state’s economy. Similar to the 1960s decisions by people to resign their memberships in country clubs which excluded blacks and Jews, business entities are signaling their unwillingness to reward North Carolina with their business if HB 2 remains the law.
It is hard to imagine how one legislative bill, in such a brief, succinct way, could be so un-American in its values. Rather than protecting a vulnerable minority, it indirectly invites its further victimization. In a power grab that leaves one breathless, it legally precludes local communities from providing local protections for its most vulnerable citizens. It removes all legal options of redress for discrimination from the state court system. And for good measure, it prevents any local mandates which would increase the minimum wage.
Where’s the House Un-American Activities Committee when you need one?
V. Gene Robinson is the IX Bishop of the Episcopal Diocese of New Hampshire. Follow him on Twitter @BishopGRobinson