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Monday, April 25, 2016

Frost was wrong.

Turning on Your Own

A year ago, almost to the day, North Carolina House Speaker Tim Moore announced that a religious freedom restoration bill designed to punish LGBT residents for winning marriage equality fair and square in the courts, was dead:

“We want to do everything we can when it comes to economic development to make sure we’re standing head and shoulders above the other states around us,” the Kings Mountain Republican said. “When you have business leaders from around the state coming in and saying, ‘We’ve got concerns,’ we’ve got to be mindful.”

Then he added,

“At the end of the day, there’s a recognition that North Carolina has a very good brand. North Carolina has a great brand, and we’ve worked this session to focus on job development, job retention and economic issues. We’re going to continue to focus on those issues.”

“When you have business leaders from around the state coming in and saying, ‘We’ve got concerns,’ we’ve got to be mindful.”

But Moore left the door open to future action, as have Republican legislative leaders in all the states whose fingers were scalded in the backlash to the first wave of post-Obergefell, antigay bills in 2015:

“Most of the sponsors recognize the political reality (and) the sensitivity of the bill and are fine with the bill being delayed or maybe dealt with in the short session or looked at as far as a study,” he said...“For this session, the bill is not going to move,” Moore said during a hastily called news conference. “This bill in its current format, at the current time, is not the proper path to go.”

He did manage to jam through a law to let county magistrates refuse to marry same-sex couples when they feel like it. A last-minute attempt to stuff the religious freedom bill into a Christmas tree law imposing uniform minimum wages and banning local antidiscrimination ordinances failed when the naked cynicism of the move shamed even legislators.

So Speaker Moore waited nine months. As he promised, the General Assembly took it up in a different form, and at a better time. Something big emboldened the state GOP in those months, and bigtime. HB2 was the result, a dazzling array of business-benefit cramdowns on local government plucked from the end of session, midnight bill last year and tied up in a big target painted on a tiny minority within the minority LGBT community.

So talkative last session, Speaker Moore has apparently been gelded by Senate President Phil Berger, whose bullyboy press conferences have barred any opening for a rethink of HB2 in the session that opens today. Remarkably, as The News & Observer noted April 24,

What is most damning about the defense of HB2 is that it makes a lie of the Republican rationale for cutting corporate income taxes, limiting services and medical care for the poor and rationing funding for education. That has all been done in the name of making North Carolina “business friendly” and promoting the North Carolina “brand.”

In a needle-threading statement a few days ago, Berger slammed the corporate interests he and GOP leaders so assiduously listened to a year ago:

“My job is not to give in to the demands of multimillionaire celebrities pushing a pet social agenda, liberal newspapers like The New York Times, big corporations who have every freedom to set whatever policies they wish under this law,” Berger said. “My job is to listen to the people who elected us to represent them. And the vast majority of North Carolinians we’ve heard from understand and support this reasonable, common-sense law.”

Polling shows the more people know about HB2, the less they approve of it. Governor McCrory’s approval ratings have sunk to a new low since he took to YouTube to cheerlead the bill. Even its supporters cannot muster and proof the bill was needed,nor anything in its favor more than a secret list they claim carries the names of 393 mom-and-pop shops supporting the law. North Carolins Values Coalition also has a public list of 71 they have admitted they do not check for accuracy, and which has contained businesses not supporting the law, businesses from out of state, and businesses that do not exist. They are adding names to it at the rate of three a month; there are over 821,000 business entities in the state.

Even Fox News people say HB2 is a pretext. Here’s a clip from the April 24 Fox News Sunday program:

BEN DOMENECH, THE FEDERALIST:  Well, first off, within the context of the discussion about bathrooms, keep in mind there are fewer transgender people in America, according to the best estimates than we have than there are registered sex offenders.  In this case, I think that's actually the thing that people are concerned about.  They're less concerned about transgender people coming into bathrooms than they are men using this as a way to get into locker rooms with women and to exploit that opportunity to participate in some kind of criminal act.  

I think that's something that is a concern among a lot of Americans.  The polls generally show that favoring sort of the -- these types of policies has actually increased since this debate has started.

...WALLACE:  I want to go back, though, to this issue of the bathrooms and whether it's a good issue because we actually decided to try to find out whether it is a public safety issue, whether it is a problem with transgender people misusing bathrooms to prey on others.  

Here is what the fact checking group PolitiFact found.  "We," that’s the PolitiFact, "haven't found any instance of criminals convicted of using transgender protections as cover in the United States.  Neither have any left wing groups or right wing groups."  

Which brings me to Charles Krauthammer's comment which I was quoting to Paul Manafort earlier, which is this seems to be a solution in search of a problem.  

JUAN WILLIAMS, FOX NEWS POLITICAL ANALYST:  I think that's right because, in fact, one of the police chiefs in North Carolina said that he had been in the police force 40 years, he had never dealt with this issue.  So he said, you know, as if people are creating a problem in search of a solution.  

I think what we come back to is a wedge issue here.  A wedge issue that in terms of gay rights, gay marriage as you know has been controversial but that wedge issue it worked in '04.  The Bush campaign got gay marriage on the ballot, helped President Bush gained reelection in '04.  

This time, that issue in terms of the polling just doesn't have the same power, the same strength on the electorate.  And when you look at the reality of it people say, well, gosh, you know, at home, I use the same bathroom as my wife, in college, they have same-sex bathrooms.  This does not seem to be a crying issue.

But even in terms of the evangelical community, the power of the true conservatives -- which is what I think Cruz is trying to do by countering Trump on this issue -- it just doesn't seem to carry the weight.  It does not seem to have the power, Chris.

North Carolina state Rep. Bob Steinburg (R-Chowan), illustrates the point. To him, opposition is mendacious and opportunistic. He says HB2 has no impact on any real people in North Carolina, just imaginary bad ones:

Strongly for HB2's main provision, Steinburg blasted perceptions HB2 is bad for the state economy as “hyperbole” and said the efforts against the law are an “orchestrated effort by the left to influence the presidential, gubernatorial, and legislative races.” The law is addressing a public safety issue, Steinburg said, citing support for the bathroom provision from the N.C. Sheriff’s Association.

...Asked about enforcement issues related to HB2 – specifically how one verifies restrooms and changing rooms are being used by persons of that biological sex – Steinburg conceded that many transgender individuals may use their preferred facilities anyway, as they may have been doing without attention or incident.

Steinburg said the state's small population of transgender individuals were never the target of HB2, but potential sexual predators were.

Which begs the question why a special emergency session,called by the legislature over the governor’s objections, was necessary to pass a law that discriminates against most residents of the state in one fashion or another, and- for a law addresses sex predators- declares nothing criminal and has no penalties or enforcement mechanisms.

Also left unsaid is why the Democratic Party bet the 2016 farm on Republicans passing HB2 in order to have a strategy for winning the general election in November.

Flacking a rally in Raleigh for April 25- opening day of the General Assembly session- one of the Christian groups raising money off the Republicans’ gay panic declared, “Our state legislators and governor recently showed courage when they passed and signed into law House Bill 2.”

So much courage that they let no one see the bill until five minutes before they gaveled an emergency session into order; allowed almost no testimony against it; voted down every attempt to amend or hold separate votes on all the oddly unrelated elements they felt ensured a worry-free pee for North Carolina women (suppressing the minimum wage? Who knew?);  and spirited the engrossed version to the governor to sign the same day.

The groups join the GOP’s self-victimization as the almost-but-not-quote-overwhelmed defenders of “proper etiquette,” as Governor McCrory styles it, against the depredations of louche Hollywood types, craven Fortune 500 corporate supremos, and the “more powerful than the NRA” lobby of the mean gays.

Writing for Charlotte Magazine, Greg Lacour shook his head for many North Carolinians over the Republican U-turn since last year:

What’s astounding here is the sheer childishness of the responses, akin to the raspberry-blowing fifth-grader’s retort that I didn’t want to be friends with you anyway. McCrory, at least, knows how the economic development game is played; you may not like the rules, and you may not like having to fork over economic incentives, but you do it or lose jobs to Georgia and South Carolina. Calling the executives of a $9.2 billion global corporation a group of unethical hypocrites may scratch a momentary emotional itch, but it neither gets the jobs back nor lures any other global corporations with capital to invest. (And good luck finding a transnational corporation that’s both ethically pristine and hypocrisy-free.)

Why would any of these folks pretend otherwise? What’s the point of insinuating, as [Lt. Governor Dan] Forest did, that PayPal “does not see the worth of our children”? What’s the practical value of portraying the mayor of Charlotte as some sort of pervert pack leader, arm in arm with a pedophile and spearheading the march of the “Political Correctness Mob”?

Why the “that’ll show ’em!” posturing, as if that would show ’em anything but justification for their decision not to come to North Carolina? Do they not understand that actual lives and careers are involved here, that this isn’t some Twitter war where last zinger wins? What the hell is wrong with these people?

The best explanation so far is that, seeing a Donald Trump-led GOP ticket dividing the party, NC GOP leaders need a really compelling enemy to hold things together at the state level. Gays have worked in the past; in 2012 they guaranteed a big Republican primary turnout to pass America’s last constitutional ban on marriage equality. Within two years, of course, it became one of the seven or eight major Raleigh GOP overreaches overturned by the courts since businessman Art Poe bought them the legislature in 2010 and they erected a great, gerrymandered wall around Raleigh; learning nothing except that delegitimizing one’s opponents keeps the animal spirits of the base feverish, they just keep passing them. And thus HB2 heads for a predictable loss in federal court.

Never mind that passing a bathroom policing law that makes nothing illegal and give police no enforcement tools or guidance leaves the protection of the girlhood of the Tarheel State to the lurid sexual anxieties of segments of the general public who are largely rural or- in a smaller subset- pursue fame, power in Raleigh, and the leadership groups that suck the last raisable nickel out of issues like these.

Never mind that HB2 sets people out and about, looking for people to accuse and incidents to manufacture to prove the law is necessary.

Never mind that, left out of the export of blame and victimization to out of state forces, the GOP’s attack is on LGBT people who live right here in North Carolina. Taxpayers. Citizens, Business Owners. Parents, Spouses, and Children.

Bashing out of staters is an old and honored tactic of right-wingers, from justifying Jim Crow forward. The only thing to change, from civil rights to women’s rights to gay rights, over nearly a hundred years, has been who is in the bathroom who shouldn’t be.

But however much they try to wall out social change, the laws they pass to do it are inflicted on the people who live here.  And to claim they do it in the name of God is all the more shameful. They can convene an emergency session for this sort of political theater, while the real issues that would make North Carolina a state almost as friendly to its residents as its leaders want to make it for business, well, those are intractable. Incremental. Referred to study committees. “We’re listening to the people,” they insist.

“When we feel like it.”

I struggle with how to feel about, and respond to, finding myself part the of targets of Republican fear and spite. Words, literally, fail me. I am grateful that there are those in the world who care about such things, and can articulate them for me. I am grateful that the Internet enables me to find them. One such inspiration is Jennifer Bailey, who writes of a high school friend’s question, “Does God love me?” in the current issue of Sojourners:

My answer to Aaron that day was an unequivocal, “Yes.” I did not have the precise language to express why at the time. But what my gut instinct told me then laid the groundwork for what I still believe now. I have no desire to serve a God whose love is conditional and whose judgment is based upon the social anxieties of human beings. That is not the God I know. It is not the gospel I preach. My God is the god of my ancestors. My God accompanies those who are the marginalized and ostracized. My God knew us as we are before we were formed in our mother’s womb. 
What I did not know in high school is that Aaron is Erin, a transgender woman. Today, she is living as the women she is and always was. She is bold, adventurous, hilarious, and warm. She is a beacon of strength and courage for all those who share space with her. I have learned more about my God by knowing her as one who is crafted in God’s image. 
These days I find myself thinking about Erin often, as laws proclaiming to defend religious liberty seek to render her and her peers invisible in the public square. Exiling them from public restrooms in North Carolina. Allowing employment discrimination in Mississippi. In Tennessee, the state I now call home, the governor will decide in coming days whether to veto a law that allows mental health counselors right to deny services to those whose existence contradicts the counselor’s “sincerely held beliefs.” In each case, it is abundantly clear that these laws are meant to target and isolate members of the LGBTQ community. I have no doubt that they will be challenged in the courts and rightly overturned over time. Indeed the 4th Circuit Court of Appeals is currently hearing a challenge to discriminatory bathroom policies by a transgender teen in Virginia. 
As a clergywoman, I find myself most troubled by the fact the sponsors of these laws often do so in the name of protecting Christianity. Is our Christianity so fragile that it must dictate where people pee? Is it so dogmatic that it must deny people access to vital mental health services that may just save their lives? I am tired of my faith tradition being hijacked as an excuse to justify the fears and, in some cases, outright bigotry of others. Let us never forget that “sincerely held religious beliefs” were also used to justify racial segregation and the terror of the Klu Klux Klan. “Sincerely held religious beliefs” — when left unchecked, when directed against each other — have brought about war and genocide both domestically and abroad. Do we really want to continue down this road and again tarnish the name of our faith in the process?
Erin’s question from high school is strikingly relevant today for the Christian community today. Does our God love her? If so, our course of action is clear. I implore my brothers and sisters in Christ to speak up and out. We cannot allow such outright discrimination to continue in our name. We cannot stand idly by while the humanity of our neighbors is being put on trial. To remain complacent is to deny the witness of Christ whose gospel implores us to stand in the gap for those at the margins. May we find the courage to live into his example.

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