Hate rears its ugly head yet again

By: - October 24, 2017 5:00 am
(Top to bottom: Lt. Gov. Dan Forest, Tami Fitzgerald and Rev. Patrick Wooden.)

As Cooper moves to curb discrimination, the Right goes ballistic

In the age of Trump, there seem to be few limits on the depths to which purveyors of fear and hate will sink. Even conservatives who disliked or opposed Trump initially seem to have been emboldened in recent months by the President’s serial dishonesty and willingness to break long-established rules of decency in public behavior.

It is with this backdrop that the saga of North Carolina’s infamous discrimination law, HB2, and the seemingly never-ending conservative war on equality for transgender individuals entered their latest phase last week.

A small step forward

As has been reported by Policy Watch and others, Governor Roy Cooper and Attorney General Josh Stein took a modest and positive step last Wednesday to chip away at some of the discriminatory aspects of state law that have remained in effect in the aftermath of last spring’s partial repeal of HB2. This is from Melissa Boughton’s story:

Gov. Roy Cooper and Attorney General Josh Stein have proposed a solution for transgender North Carolinians who are prevented from using public restrooms that match their gender identity in legislation enacted to replace House Bill 2.

Cooper signed a non-discrimination Executive Order today for the state ‘to promote diversity and prohibit discrimination in government agencies and government contracts in an effort to make North Carolina a welcoming place to all.’

The order prohibits discrimination in his administration on the grounds of race, color, ethnicity, sex, National Guard or veteran status, sexual orientation, and gender identity or expression in employment, and it also requires those doing business with the state to do the same.

This means that transgender individuals will not be prohibited under HB142, which repealed HB2.

Cooper and other parties to the lawsuit over HB142 (formerly over HB2), Carcano v. Cooper, also submitted a consent decree to the court to resolve the dispute.”

As Boughton’s report indicates, Cooper’s action came in response to a federal lawsuit brought by the ACLU of North Carolina and Lambda Legal on behalf of a group of transgender individuals. The lawsuit challenged the fact that the bill that repealed HB2 (HB 142) still “bars the ‘regulation’ of access to restrooms and other facilities in schools and other state or local government buildings in North Carolina, leaving transgender people vulnerable to discrimination and even possible arrest.  It also prevents cities from passing any protections against discrimination in private employment or places of public accommodation — for LGBT people or anyone — until December 2020.”

By moving to settle the suit and issuing his executive order, Governor Cooper took a small, but meaningful step in moving North Carolina, once and for all, away from this kind of destructive discrimination.

That said, the result was far from radical or close to a complete solution. Advocates at the Human Rights Campaign, the National Center for Transgender Equality and Equality North Carolina mustered only a minimal level of enthusiasm for the action. This is from a joint statement issued by the three groups:

‘While this executive order may represent some narrow improvements for LGBTQ North Carolinians, by no means does it offer full protections or rectify the tremendous harm caused by HB 2 and continued harm from HB 142,’ said JoDee Winterhof, [Human Rights Campaign] Senior Vice President of Policy and Political Affairs. ‘Governor Cooper and state lawmakers must show leadership on the real solution for North Carolina — statewide, LGBTQ non-discrimination protections.’

‘This EO brings North Carolina a little bit closer back to where many states have been for years. And that has some meaningful consequences for many LGBTQ North Carolinians—it means, for example, that they have a bit of extra protection against being turned away from government services like the DMV and fired from a state government job simply because of their gender identity or sexual orientation,’ said Mara Keisling, Executive Director of the National Center for Transgender Equality. ‘But it’s not nearly enough, especially when the state of North Carolina continues to sanction and promote anti-transgender discrimination under HB 142.’

‘It is important to note that some of the worst portions of the HB2 compromise, HB142, remain on the books and continue to cause real harm to LGBTQ North Carolinians every day,’ said Matt Hirschy, Interim Executive Director for Equality NC. ‘While the executive order issued today is a step in the right direction, the fact remains that a majority of LGBTQ North Carolinians lack protections in housing, employment, and public accommodations. Realizing that there is more work to be done, we are hopeful that Governor Roy Cooper will work harder for positive change for our community and others. Equality NC will not stop until every North Carolinian feels safe in their community.’

The Right still flips its lid

Despite the modest and incomplete scope of last week’s action (LGBT people in North Carolina can still be fired today because of whom they love), conservative voices – all of which have repeatedly voiced support for a President who brags openly of physically assaulting women – have been fairly apoplectic about the news.

Here’s Tami Fitzgerald of the badly misnamed North Carolina Values Coalition:

Governor Cooper has betrayed the people of North Carolina with an Executive Order that not only allows boys and men into girls’ and women’s showers and bathrooms but also forces private businesses to adopt sweeping LGBT special rights.”

And then there was North Carolina’s ultra-right Lt. Governor, Dan Forest:

Governor Cooper’s Executive Order once again opens the bathroom stall for those who would seek to do women and children harm while falsely claiming they are transgender….his order creates a legal loophole that will be exploited by non-transgender pedophiles, stalkers and perverts. All bathrooms at state rest areas, parks and museums will now be fertile ground for sexual deviants who will falsely claim to be transgender to gain protected access to our women and children.”

Forest, it should be noted, will share the stage this week with one of the nation’s most notorious gay bashing zealots, Rev. Patrick Wooden.

Perhaps not surprisingly, however, Francis DeLuca of the reliably humorous Civitas Institute takes the cake. In a blog post he wrote:

How does the legislature stop this type of activity in the future? There is only one course of political action that is foolproof – impeachment.”

Going forward

Of course, despite the over-the-top complaints of the Fitzgeralds, Forests and DeLucas of the world, the truth of the matter is that Cooper and Stein’s actions were eminently reasonable and precisely what North Carolinians ought to expect from elected leaders confronted with defending discriminatory and unconstitutional policies. Just as it would be preposterous for Cooper and Stein to defend, say, a law that applied a religious test to serving in public office, so it is that both men made the determination that they would better serve the state by ending a costly and indefensible lawsuit.

What’s more, last week’s action makes good political and economic sense and will, if legislative leaders hold onto their wits and look at the big picture, do the state a great service. Unfortunately, as Raleigh’s News & Observer put it aptly in an editorial this past weekend, it seems just as likely that Senate President Pro Tem Phil Berger and House Speaker Tim Moore will tempt fate (and the wrath of corporate America) again:

Unfortunately for them, but fortunately for North Carolina, about the only thing they could try would be to pass another version of HB2, which Cooper would veto and they would override, at which point jobs would start to disappear and things like the Amazon headquarters project with potentially 50,000 jobs would surely be lost.

But don’t count on good sense prevailing. Cooper has just gone game, set and match on Republicans in the General Assembly, and they don’t like it one bit. But they’re stuck, because the public already has seen the consequences of their foolishness. Do they really want to put it on display again?”

Stay tuned. Sadly, it seems likely that there are more chapters to be written in North Carolina’s destructive culture wars and that the far right has more outrageous broadsides to fire.

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Rob Schofield
Rob Schofield

Editor Rob Schofield oversees day-to-day newsroom operations, authors regular commentaries, and hosts a weekly radio show/podcast.