Citizen Green: Playing the short game against history by pandering to bigotry


Photo: Callie Schmid addresses a rally at College Park Baptist Church in Greensboro.

by Jordan Green

Gov. Pat McCrory has been spoiling for this fight for several months. And he clearly calculated that in attacking the rights of transgender people to use the bathroom of their preference, he had found a social issue to use as a wedge to distract rural, conservative, working-class voters from the anti-poor agenda he and the General Assembly have enacted since he took office four years ago.

McCrory signed on to an amicus brief with the states of South Carolina, West Virginia, Arizona and Mississippi in support of a rural Virginia school board seeking to prevent a transgender male high school student from using the men’s restroom in December, and tellingly, challenged his eventual Democratic opponent, Attorney General Roy Cooper, to join the legal intervention. Notably, McCrory weighed in by adding his name to the amicus brief — labeling the high school student’s efforts to uphold his dignity as “radical” — on Nov. 30, 2015, almost three months before the city council in his hometown of Charlotte passed an ordinance providing civil rights protections to trans people.

The political calculation is pretty obvious here: Cooper would either join the amicus brief, and alienate much of his Democratic base, or refuse and open himself up to charges from the right of bowing to political correctness run amok, or some such foolishness. Thankfully, the attorney general resisted the invitation to pander to bigotry.

Like the Southern segregationist politicians of the 1960s who tried to outdo one another with racial demagoguery to rack up white votes as the federal government and courts gradually upended Jim Crow, McCrory and his political cronies are playing the short game against the inevitable tide of progress. The Republican governor and leadership of the General Assembly are banking that their appeal to unfounded fears about phantom sexual predators posing as women to prey on girls in public restrooms will whip up enough votes to allow them to maintain political control as the state’s electorate slowly but surely diversifies and urbanizes. But they know that laws that single out transgender people for discrimination will be struck down as unconstitutional, just like previous laws against same sex-marriage, just like laws against marriage between people of different races, and just like laws maintaining different bathrooms and water fountains for people of different races.

The lawsuit filed by the ACLU of North Carolina on behalf of two transgender citizens, including a UNCG student, points out that HB 2 creates “conflicts between state law and various federal laws.” Notably, the US Department of Education issued guidelines in 2014 asserting that Title IX prohibitions against sex-based discrimination apply to transgender students. Accordingly, the US Justice Department has weighed in to support the Virginia transgender high school student, landing on the side opposite of McCrory.

Similarly, the federal Equal Employment Opportunity Commission interprets the prohibition against sex discrimination “as forbidding any employment discrimination based on gender identity or sexual orientation,” according to a recent guidance. As examples of discrimination the EEOC cites, “failing to hire an applicant because she is a transgender woman,” “firing an employee because he is planning or has made a gender transition” and — wait for it — “denying an employee equal access to a common restroom corresponding to the employee’s gender identity.”

As a legal basis for its protection of the civil rights of transgender persons, the EEOC primarily cites a 2011 decision by the 11th Circuit Court of Appeals finding that a transgender female was entitled to protections against workplace discrimination when she was fired by the Georgia General Assembly.

The writing is on the wall for HB 2, but we can’t wait two years or however long it takes for the courts to right this wrong.

As Callie Schmid, a transgender woman told roughly a thousand people packed into College Park Baptist Church in Greensboro on Sunday afternoon: “I’m worried about that fifth grader that’s now exposed to more bullying. And I’m worried about that trans teenager that’s trying to navigate the minefield that is high school. And I’m worried about that female-to-male college student who’s told they have to go back to using the women’s bathroom because it is in a public college school. I’m worried about the young professional who is transitioning on the job and gets fired because they’re trans.”

Schmid talked about losing one of her closest friends, a medical doctor with a bright future ahead of her, to suicide last year.

“She lost her struggle to being trans and all the sh-tuff that comes with it,” Schmid said. “And so I want to say to Mr. McCrory and the haters in the General Assembly: The next time a trans kid walks into oncoming traffic to end his or her life, I want you to look the parents and the family in the eye and tell them that HB 2 was a good idea.”