North Carolina just wrote, passed, and signed into law the most anti-LGBT measure of the past decade—and it was all based on a lie.
The state has undone not just local ordinances protecting transgender people, but all LGBT nondiscrimination provisions across the state. Literally overnight, people in Charlotte and across North Carolina can now be fired from their jobs for being gay, turned away at hotel chains for being gay, and even forced to show their genitals to a police officer if the cop thinks they might be transgender.
And unlike in Georgia, where a constellation of businesses has arrayed to oppose an anti-LGBT bill, bigots in North Carolina don’t even need religion as an excuse.
Instead, they’ve used a lie about anti-discrimation ordinances: that they will cause girls to use the boys room and vice versa. Legislators who, in an act that surely must be considered child abuse, even got a high school student to testify that “Girls like me should never be forced to undress or shower in the presence of boys.”
That is completely, 100 percent untrue. The ordinance that ignited this debate, passed by Charlotte on Feb. 22, only prevents businesses from discriminating against gay people. That does include enabling transgender people to use gender-appropriate restrooms, but only if they are really transgender. Nor would gender-appropriate restrooms lead to sexual assault: in fact there is not one case in 17 states and 225 other cities with such ordinances of rapists using their legal cover to attack women.
Yet the North Carolina legislature went far, far beyond overturning that ordinance. Part I of the law does, indeed, require all bathrooms to be restricted by “biological sex” as defined on one’s birth certificate, but Parts II and III have nothing to do with that, and instead roll back any local ordinances protecting gay, lesbian, bisexual, or transgender people from discrimination in employment and public accommodations. It is sheer opportunism, piggybacking an unrelated anti-gay law atop a misinformed anti-trans one.
Now that the Big Bathroom Lie has worked twice—the first time was in Houston—the question all right-thinking people must ask themselves is: Do the people telling the lie even believe themselves?
Maybe they do.
“If you repeat a lie often enough, people will believe it, and you will even come to believe it yourself.” So wrote Adolf Hitler (not Goebbels, as often thought), in his chapter on “War Propaganda” in Mein Kampf.
That seems to be the case here. Some people clearly are dupes: that girl who testified seems really to believe that the Charlotte bill would put boys into her locker room. That also was true in Houston, where voters approved an ordinance a bit like the North Carolina law. There, polling data showed that a majority of “Yes” voters really did think that the city’s non-discrimination ordinance was a “bathroom bill” that would make girls shower with boys.
Some of the law’s supporters may also be so transphobic that they still call Caitlyn Jenner “Bruce” and think she belongs in the men’s room. These may be the worst of all, because unlike the fictive “bathroom menace,” there are very real statistics about violence suffered by transgender people, especially transgender women. Some of these women testified to the legislature, to no avail. One, Madeleine Gauss, a transgender woman living in Raleigh, said of her hometown, “I was bullied and tortured and beaten mercilessly there, and where did it happen, it happened in the men’s room, this place is a place of danger for people like me. I can’t use the men’s room. I won’t go back to the men’s room. It is unsafe for me there. People like me die there.”
But mostly, the backers of this bill are liars. They are cynically creating and exploiting public fears to score points with their base, raise money, and win victories against LGBT people in areas of employment and public accommodations—victories they know they couldn’t get if they attacked the issue honestly.
Surely, by now, the national groups behind this legislation—the Family Research Council, Alliance Defending Freedom, American Family Association—are fully aware that they are lying. They know that there is not a single case on record of a man taking advantage of a nondiscrimination bill, dressing up as a woman, being allowed into a women’s restroom, and sexually assaulting someone. They also know that ordinances like Charlotte’s would not eliminate single-sex restrooms and locker rooms.
So, these purported men of God are liars.
What about North Carolina’s governor, Pat McCrory? Here’s where it gets interesting, because if you read his comments closely enough, he knows that he, too, is a liar—but is lying in just the right way to cover his lying, sorry ass.
In February, for example, he criticized the Charlotte ordinance for “chang[ing] basic standards and expectations of privacy regarding restrooms and locker rooms.” Well, that is sort of true—it does allow transgender people to use gender-appropriate facilities—but it’s not true in the way McCrory knew everyone would hear it: that it lets boys in the girls room.
And late last night, he tweeted, “Ordinance defied common sense, allowing men to use women’s bathroom/locker room for instance.” McCrory must know that’s a lie. He also must know that the bill he signed goes far beyond the bathroom issue.
So, the governor too, is now a liar.
Unfortunately, even a law based on a lie is not unconstitutional, despite what some pundits have said. As I described here a year ago in the context of Arkansas’ anti-gay law, these bills are written to weasel around the Supreme Court’s ruling in Romer v. Evans that LGBT people cannot be singled out for discrimination. Bigots do that by avoiding any mention of LGBT people, and simply say that no municipality can enact a nondiscrimination ordinance stricter than state law. Of course, the only group not included in the state law but included in local ones is the LGBT—but since they aren’t mentioned by name, the law is likely constitutional.
However, the North Carolina law definitely violates Title IX, the federal education nondiscrimination law, as that law has been interpreted by courts. That means it jeopardizes $4.5 billion in federal education funding that North Carolina receives. And it will surely be challenged in court.
So, in addition to jeopardizing gay and trans people in North Carolina, a law built on a foundation of bullshit will cost the state billions of dollars in federal aid, and millions more in legal fees.
On the other hand, Republicans did just roll back protections that most people support, and they’d never have been able to do so if they weren’t lying about bathrooms. In fact, most people think it’s already illegal to fire someone for being gay.
In the end, though, this isn’t going to work. At some point, just like the other anti-gay lies—we’re recruiting your children, our marriages will ruin yours—the Big Bathroom Lie will be exposed for what it is, and anti-gay folks will look stupid. Undoing this lie may take longer than it should, but it will happen.
Because you see, Gov. McCrory, Hitler was wrong.