How Not to Argue Against HB2
This post originally appeared in the May 1, 2016 edition of the Durham Herald-Sun.
From the grocery store here in Durham to the elegant sewing shop in Carrboro, people are discussing what they think is the matter at hand with House Bill 2. People are talking about bathrooms. This piece of legislation was not a slapped-together debacle. It represents a well-crafted strategy. As Nina Martin wrote in her April 5 essay for ProPublica, “Tucked inside is language that strips North Carolina workers of the ability to sue under a state anti-discrimination law, a right that has been upheld in court since 1985.” Martin quotes Erika K. Wilson, a law professor at the University of North Carolina who specializes in civil law, as saying “The LGBT issues were a Trojan horse.” Martin further notes that this legislation is part of a “burgeoning trend in which conservatives are exploiting a backlash against gay marriage and transgender rights to push legislation with broad ramifications.” Martin quotes Katherine Franke, director of Columbia Law School’s Center for Gender and Sexuality Law, as noting these lawmakers “seek to unravel protections against race discrimination in public accommodations and other contexts.”
This legislation takes particular human beings, walking around in the world as children of God, and names them as a source of moral chaos. North Carolina House Bill 2 uses fear about gender and sexuality as a wedge to undermine the dignity and safety of workers during this second Great Depression. It is evil, and it is brilliant. The legislation combines a tactic known as scapegoating with the Trojan Horse trick. House Bill 2 is a Trojan Goat. When people are struggling to pay the rent or the mortgage, when our public schools are being intentionally under-funded and undermined, when we are told repeatedly to work harder and to juggle more responsibilities, apparently something has to give. Enter the scapegoat, in this case a person who is not definitively marked as part of a gender-binary of male or female, and some of us somehow find satisfaction in discussing that human being as a central problem in the world. We discuss this person and where they will urinate as if we are having a meaningful discussion. This scapegoating strategy distracts us from focusing on ways that almost everyone is being treated horribly within our current economic system, and it sneaks past us the “broad ramifications” of the legislation.
Given this Trojan Goat trick, how should we best argue against House Bill 2? I think the worst way to argue against House Bill 2 is to say it is bad for business. Amendment 1, which has now been declared unconstitutional, had North Carolinians making this same sort of argument. Reacting to the shame of appearing miserably retrograde on gender and sexuality, people argued that North Carolina needed to assert ourselves again as properly progressive, cosmopolitan, and open for business. Here is the problem with this argument. This argument relies on a logic that human beings are assets. It relies on a logic that our state needs properly to dress ourselves up to impress people with money to invest, so that they will come and employ us. Goodness knows North Carolina needs jobs, but people are not primarily assets, or worker bees. People are human beings. The kind of horrible that is House Bill 2 is best countered by reminding ourselves that we, and our neighbors, deserve to be treated with dignity. The best argument against the hired bullies who are trying to intimidate, shame, and distract us is to refuse to be intimidated, shamed, or distracted.
People who are not immediately identifiable as conforming to the biological sex on their birth certificate are not dangerous. The idea that people who are transgender are walking around menacing others is patently false. It is much more dangerous to walk around in the world as a person who is transgender than it is to walk around in the world as someone who is immediately identified as on the far side of what counts as feminine or masculine. And, there are people of every unique sort of beautiful working here who have to fight daily for the right even to take a bathroom break in any bathroom, however the bathroom is marked. So, rather than succumbing to the Trojan Goating going on, people who wear dresses and people who wear pants can stand up for one another in our workplaces. We can remind one another daily that we are not primarily worker bees, desperate for a suitably impressed beekeeper to come to North Carolina and employ us. We are, each one of us, worthy of being treated like human beings. I do not care one fig whether that assertion of our particular, unique, absolutely inviolable human dignity is “good” or “bad” for business.