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Wash Journal   Fairfield Ledger
Neighbors Growing Together | Jul 17, 2018

North Carolina, you’re breaking my heart

State’s legislation is not about the bathroom; it’s about open, legal discrimination
By KARYN SPORY, MPN editor | Apr 29, 2016

Ask just about anyone and they’ll tell you that I have a deep seeded desire to move to North Carolina. And while the Tar Heel State has been my vacation destination (the two times in the last five years I’ve been able to take a vacation), recent legislation has me rethinking my desire to make the sandy shores of the Outer Banks my home.

Last month, North Carolina passed sweeping legislation that repealed a Charlotte ordinance, which had expanded basic protections for people based on their sexual orientation and gender identity (aka, not being able to fire someone for being gay). Most notably, the city’s non-discrimination ordinance allowed people to choose a restroom corresponding to the gender they identify with. Within 24 hours, North Carolina Gov. Pat McCrory and the General Assembly not only effectively desolated Charlotte’s legislation, but the new law HB2 – known as Public Facilities Privacy and Security Act – makes it illegal for cities to expand upon those state laws, making it illegal to protect LGBT individuals from discrimination.

Supporters of the law name the desire to keep women and children safe from sexual predators as the need for such a law. However, according to an article by the Charlotte Observer, Chris Sgro, the executive director of Equality NC, stated there had not been any public safety issues with ordinances allowing transgender people to use the bathroom of their choice.

The Observer goes on to say, “We haven’t found any instances of criminals convicted of using transgender protections as cover in the United States. Neither have any left-wing groups or right-wing groups.”

And if we’re framing this law as concern over rape, maybe we should do more for those who have been sexually assaulted instead of victim blaming or pointing the finger and mislabeling a group of human beings.

A few days later, Mississippi’s House Bill 1523 began garnering attention. The Religious Liberty Accommodations Act, which was signed into law, states the state could not punish people who refuse to provide services to people because of a religious opposition to the same-sex marriage, extramarital sex or transgender people.

Most proponents of the bill, and similar legislation in (many) other states use the example of the law protecting “Peggy Sue”, a bakery owner who feels providing a wedding cake to a same-sex couple goes against her moral and religious beliefs. This law protects her from legal action from the state for discriminating against the couple. On a related matter, the Huffington Post cites there are 100+ anti-LGBT bills pending across the U.S.

But the law goes much further than protecting Peggy Sue’s right to discriminate. Sarah Kaplan writes for the Washington Post that the law “says the government can’t prevent businesses from firing a transgendered employee, clerks from refusing to license a same-sex marriage, or adoption agencies from refusing to place a child with a couple who they believe may be having premarital sex.”

There are even bills that would allow health professionals to deny services to LGBT people by citing religious objections (Arkansas HB 325, Oklahoma HJR 1059 and Tennessee HB 566, SB 397, SB 1556).

Now, if you’re like me, you may be scratching your head because doesn’t federal anti-discrimination law make it illegal for such things to happen? Isn’t it illegal for, say an employer to fire a employee based on their sexual orientation or gender identity, much like it’s illegal to fire someone because they’re a woman or disabled? The answer, unless you live in a handful of states, is no. Discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity in the workplace, housing and public accommodations is prohibited by law only in the states of Washington, Oregon, California, Nevada, Utah (public accommodations is not covered), Colorado, New Mexico, Minnesota, Iowa (yay!), Illinois, Maryland, the District of Columbia, Delaware, New Jersey, New York, Connecticut, Rhode Island, Massachusetts (gender identity in public accommodations is not covered), Vermont, Maine and Hawaii.

I find it very disconcerting that last year we took a long-awaited step forward in equality by legalizing same-sex marriage, yet even before that foot could come down we stumbled, no, we fell face first, and began enacting a slew of laws that allow citizens of a country that believes in freedom and equality to openly and blatantly discriminate. Even my home state of Missouri has gotten in on the pro-discrimination bandwagon by penning a religious freedom act. However, on Wednesday, the House Emerging Issues Committee had a 6-6 vote on SJR 39, failing to move the measure any further in the state legislature. There is, however, still a bathroom bill on the floor.

For the past month, since my someday home began making headlines for its ability to discriminate, my free time has become consumed with reading up on this topic. And as my space here is running short, I’ll leave you with maybe the best imagery I’ve seen regarding the bathroom bills. It’s a two-part photo. The top photo, in black and white, showed two water fountains – one labeled white, the other colored. The bottom photo featured a male and female restroom. The script on the top photo read, “It was never about water fountains.” And this is not about bathrooms.

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