I knew I had had my fill of House Bill 2 and who is going to use which bathroom during a recent trip to New York.
A friend and I spent an afternoon at the incomparable Frick Museum on 5th Avenue. It is a mansion whose turn-of-the-20th -century industrial baron owner left it in trust so that the public could enjoy his fabulous art collection, and millions do. On top of the Frick’s own collection, there was also a special portrait exhibit, and my travelling buddy and I were enjoying ourselves immensely. Even though we had informative headsets, we decided to take a docent-led tour—two, in fact--and headed through Frick rooms with a lovely New York lady, who heard us chatting.
“Where are you from?” she asked.
“North Carolina,” we said.
“How embarrassing!” she blurted.
It was my most personal experience with how far North Carolina’s new reputation for intolerance and discrimination has traveled, and I was indeed embarrassed in front of the docent. I am also embarrassed in the state where I have lived all my life, and I am far from alone.
We have all heard the TV comics making our state the butt of their clever jokes, the news stories about businesses not locating in North Carolina, conventions and family reunions choosing other states for their gatherings and superstar entertainers from Bruce “The Boss” Springstein to Itzhak Perlman staying home in protest of HB2. A quick Google reveals spoofs on North Carolina’s new slogan, changing “NC-Nothing Compares” to “NC-Nobody Cares.” Folks in Mississippi now are quoted as saying, “Thank goodness for North Carolina.”
What many of us do not know, though, is that HB2, now law, is not really about which bathrooms we use, even though that is the provision that has drawn the eyes of the world to North Carolina, and not favorably.
HB2 is actually about what most political issues are about—raw power and who is in going to wield it. Bathroom privacy, something every human being holds dear, is a smokescreen for the heart of the legislation—OOPS!—the new law. HB2 takes away the right of employees who feel wronged by their employers to sue in state courts.
We may, of course, file our grievances in the federal system, a more expensive and more distant option. It also limits the authority of local governments to enact ordinances that apply in their communities, regarding minimum wage, sick leave, plastic bag bans and other issues individual communities face.
It is a clear message to the people of North Carolina and to our elected local government officials about who is really in charge, and it ain’t us.
The majority in the North Carolina General Assembly wants you to know that it is firmly in charge.
Did the majority conceive of and draft HB2?
In the murky political background is a think tank devoted to crafting bills for legislatures throughout the nation. The American Legislative Exchange Council, which the New York Times dubs, a “stealth business lobbyist,” dreams up all sorts of legislative templates in hopes that some state will enact them, and many do.
The North Carolina General Assembly has been an eager customer for what ALEC is selling.
In case you have any doubts about the legal heft of the bathroom bill and who goes where, remember this.
Even if we had enough bathroom monitors or law enforcement officers to make sure everyone uses the potty facility related to his or her birth certificate, which we decidedly do not, HB2 provides no direction. If a bathroom monitor believes that there is a biological man in the ladies room or a biological woman in the men’s room, all the monitor can do is suggest the person go somewhere else.
There is no crime and hence no penalty.
HB2 provides no guidance about what to do and no penalties for being in a bathroom for people of a different birth gender. The best the monitor or officer can say, is “Could you move over to the bathroom next door, pretty please?”
Yes, the Frick Museum docent embarrassed me, and I am deeply saddened by the cumulative beating—however well deserved—North Carolina is taking in the national and international arena. I hope we recover our formerly sterling reputation in my lifetime, but I am not holding my breath.
In the meantime, I pass along one of many bathroom designations floating around on the Internet. Some have stick figures wearing both trousers and a dress. One of those designs features a hand aiming a gun at his/her foot.
You probably have your own favorite of these visuals.
Mine is on this page.
It has everything to do with the personal liberties of those of us fortunate enough to be Americans.