For residents of a state with one of the lowest ages of consent in the nation, North Carolina General Assembly members sure worry a lot about pedophilia. So much, in fact, that they convened for a special one-day legislative session in an attempt to keep sexual predators out of bathrooms. Of course, even pedophiles have bladders, so the Great North State’s leaders did the next best thing and overturned Charlotte’s “bathroom ordinance,” which would have permitted people to use the public restrooms corresponding to their gender identity, not their biological sex. While I applaud the elected officials of my home state for their efficiency—it took them less than two days to travel to Raleigh in the middle of an official recess and vote on the bill, whereas raising teacher pay more than a token amount required six years of effort—I decry every facet of the law they approved.
You see, “The Act to Provide for Single-Sex Multiple Occupancy Bathrooms in Changing Facilities in Schools and Public Agencies and to Create Statewide Consistency In Regulation of Employment and Public Accommodations” (it’s a mouthful, huh?) is to some degree unenforceable, and to a larger degree impractical. Unless the legislature allocates funds for bathroom monitors who check people’s genitalia upon entry, no one will be able to determine with 100 percent accuracy if a bathroom user is of the proper sex. That’s due to the marvel of stall dividers.
Furthermore, aspiring sex offenders can still prey upon others in bathrooms of their own sex, petting zoos, youth group meetings and other such places. Until Lt. Governor Dan Forest and his fellow conservatives develop a method of keeping such unsavory characters out of any location in which children and/or exposed private parts are present I remain unconvinced that their true motives are to keep vulnerable North Carolinians out of harm’s way.
Instead, H.B. 2, as it's called, is an unprecedented crusade against the LGBTQ+ community under the guise of bathroom regulations. In addition to keeping women from ever seeing a urinal and men from ever gazing upon a tampon dispenser, the law creates a state-level nondiscrimination policy that supersedes local ones. Coincidentally, this shiny new source of legal redress for unfairly treated North Carolinians does not include sexual orientation, gender identity or gender expression; in other words, firing an employee for not being heterosexual and/or cisgender is A-Okay down here in the Tar Heel State. Even more distressingly, this legislation forces the citizens of North Carolina’s more progressive areas, who designated at least some queer individuals as members of a protected class, to shred their local rulebook and instead follow the policy handed down to them by Uncle Pat and his cronies.
While not nearly as well-publicized as the bill’s bathroom-related portion, the “statewide consistency in regulation of employment and public accommodations” called for in its second part is even more insidious and less subtle in its discriminatory nature. While trans-individuals are still permitted to use single-occupant bathrooms in any setting (convicted pedophiles are still allowed in the multiple-occupancy ones, oddly), they and their LGBTQ+ peers are all vulnerable to the biases of their supervisors.
Such a change matters for both individuals and businesses. For instance, I consciously did not mention my Tinder preferences in the workplace during my internship this past summer, but I did so simply to avoid awkward conversations with my conservative-leaning colleagues, not out of fear for my job. My discretion was not truly necessary since my employer has a well-enforced nondiscrimination policy that encompasses sexual orientation and gender identity and expression. I was fortunate; countless other N.C. firms have no such rules, making it necessary for LGBTQ+ workers to depend on the government for protection from discrimination. Such rules, whether self-imposed or enforced by legislators, make sense; researchers at Forbes, McKinsey and Harvard Business School have found time and time again that a diverse workforce makes for a stronger, more profitable company. Considering how hard Republicans have worked to make North Carolina “business friendly” through tax cuts, you would think they would tolerate, if not outright encourage, more inclusive nondiscrimination ordinances. Sadly that is not the case.
In addition to removing protections against queer North Carolinians, General Assembly members poured salt on their constituents' wounds by incorporating the “Wage and Hour Act” into the bill. This provision further supersedes local authority by forbidding municipality or county leaders from setting a minimum wage at the local level. In other words, companies can pay their employees as little as $7.25 an hour, the current N.C. wage floor, and an amount significantly below the MIT-recommended “living wage” of $10.53 per hour for a single adult not even accounting for the elevated cost of living in urban areas such as the Research Triangle or Charlotte. By pushing through this regressive labor policy despite evidence that North Carolinians actually desire an increased minimum wage, our statesmen and women make it clear that their agenda takes precedence over the will of those who elected them.
Like bootleggers out of the Appalachian Mountains, North Carolina Republicans and their “Democratic” allies—numerous non-GOP politicians approved the House bill—threw together a veritable cocktail brew of transphobia, homophobia and classism. Then, not content to share the hooch of outmoded conservatism only among themselves, they have also poured it down their constituents’ throats in hopes of them developing a tolerance for it. We can only hope this drunken political bacchanal ends with head-splitting hangovers and electoral upsets by leaders less predisposed to unmatched reactionism.
Tom Vosburgh is a Trinity senior and the Editorial Page Editor.
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