Just when you thought politics in North Carolina could not get any more divisive, mean-spirited and absurd, leaders of the General Assembly have decided to hold a special session of the legislature this week to repeal basic rights of gay, lesbian and transgender people in Charlotte and to make sure that no other city in the state dares to try to provide them in the future.
It is hard to overstate how ridiculous and cynical this is.
Last month the Charlotte City Council adopted a nondiscrimination resolution that protects LGBT people from discrimination by businesses that are open to the public. A hotel, for example, cannot refuse a room to a gay couple because they are gay.
That is apparently part of what the special session is for, to make sure that hotels and other businesses can discriminate against people based on their sexual orientation.
Most of the public justification for the session from Gov. Pat McCrory, Lt Gov. Dan Forest, and Speaker Tim Moore is their demagoguery about children somehow being in danger because of a provision in the ordinance that allows transgender people to use the public bathroom that corresponds to their gender identity.
Moore called it a “radical proposal” and many of the supporters of the special session have claimed it will open the door to predators in restrooms and force girls to undress in front of men in locker rooms.
Groups on the religious right have fanned the flames with rallies and press conferences where speakers have made all sorts of outlandish claims. One of the speakers at a press event this week was Rev. Ron Baity, the head of Return America, who in the past has literally compared LGBT people to murderers.
Missing from many of the stories about the bathroom provision and the claims it would put children at risk is that hundreds of local governments across the country have approved similar ordinances, including Columbia, South Carolina, where there have been no reports of dramatic increases in sexual assaults or other crimes.
When that issue has been raised in the media coverage, it is presented as merely one side of an argument.
Supporters of overturning the ordinance proclaim that sexual predators will attack children if the ordinance stands. Somewhere else in the story, an LGBT advocate will point out that more than 200 cities already have similar ordinances in place and have had no issues.
But there are not two sides here.
Either cities that allow transgender people to use the bathroom corresponding to their gender identity have had problems or not. That is a question that can be answered, it is not an opinion or a value judgment. There is evidence available.
An official with the Des Moines police department told the group Media Matters that there have been no cases of sexual assault related to the state’s nondiscrimination ordinance and added that “I doubt that’s gonna encourage the behavior. If the behavior’s there, [sexual predators are] gonna behave as they’re gonna behave no matter what the laws are.”
A Maine official said there’s been no increase in sexual assaults in bathrooms in that state since it adopted a nondiscrimination ordinance in 2005.
A spokesman for the Minneapolis police department told the group that fears about sexual assault because of transgender non-discrimination laws have not even remotely been a problem.
There are many more local officials saying the same thing. Media outlets could perform a public service by interviewing them, by calling Columbia, or Minneapolis, or Des Moines, and asking about how the ordinance has worked and if any of the horrible predictions of the religious right have come true.
It’s a safe bet that none of the public officials in cities with a nondiscrimination ordinance will be heard from this week at the General Assembly in one of the most outrageous special legislative sessions in North Carolina’s history.
That’s because the session is not about thoughtful and reasonable debate about public policy. It’s about pandering to fear and energizing a political base, and it will make the lives of LGBT people more painful in the process.
North Carolina ought to be better than that— but it has become abundantly clear in the last few years that we are not—not with the current crowd in charge in Raleigh.