For me and my fellow progressive North Carolinians, March 23 was just another Wednesday. I woke up, had coffee, and got ready to go into work at a new job. I never expected the day to become historic. Sure, I'd heard talk for a few weeks of the state legislature calling a special session following the passage of the pro-transgender bathroom rule in Charlotte that legally empowered transgender people to use public restrooms that align with their gender identities (a long-fought battle and one I celebrated as a native Charlottean), but it seemed like nothing more than regular grumblings from North Carolina's conservative lawmakers.
But that morning, unbeknownst to me, things were heating up over at the State House of Representatives in Raleigh, just 25 miles down the road from my home in Durham. The night prior, House Republicans announced they were holding a special session to discuss Charlotte's bathroom ordinance — and furthermore, that the draft of the transgender bathroom bill wouldn't be released publicly until the session began. As I went about my day, LGBTQ activists began lining up to get into the committee room where the bill was to be considered, waiting in long lines to have their voices heard.
Around noon that day, my Facebook news feed and Twitter timeline were suddenly abuzz with reports of what was going on in the State House — the rushed special session to repeal the Charlotte bathroom ordinance had far more overreach than originally expected. An alarming tweet from State Sen. Jeff Jackson began making the rounds, lending credence to the worst fears of LGBTQ activists: that this bill would go much further than just overturning Charlotte's ruling that allowed transgender people to use restrooms that align with their genders.
As the special session barreled on, the rest of the day's now-historic events took place in a whirlwind of harried tweets and local news coverage. The House passed HB2 after three hours of debate, including a mere five-minute recess for legislators to read the draft and 30 minutes for public comment. Gov. Pat McCrory signed the bill into law that night. There were roughly 12 hours between the bill's introduction and its passage into law. Everyone around me was in shock.
That Wednesday, North Carolina politics went national when the state passed the controversial House Bill 2 (HB2), officially titled the "Public Facilities Privacy and Security Act," which bars transgender people from using restrooms that correspond to their gender identities. HB2 is known as the "transgender bathroom bill" because it limits patronage of public restrooms based on "biological sex," defined in the bill as "the physical condition of being male or female, which is stated on a person's birth certificate."
I didn't predict the beating my state would take in national media in the days and weeks that followed.
HB2 nullified Charlotte's attempts at LGBT protections, and made it illegal for other cities to try to implement similar protections. HB2 has been called a Trojan horse for workers rights violations — it also made it illegal for cities to raise their minimum wages above the state's minimum wage of $7.25 per hour, allows businesses to discriminate against LGBT people, and makes it harder for people to sue for workplace discrimination.
I knew the new law would garner coverage, but I didn't predict the beating my state would take in national media in the days and weeks that followed. The reactions ranged from humorous, like Funny or Die's North Carolina anti-gay tourism spoof ad, to the disappointing news about Bruce Springsteen's statement on North Carolina and the cancellation of his April 10 show in Greensboro (after which high-profile artists like Ringo Starr, Pearl Jam and others followed suit).
Outraged and critical op-eds on the the law began springing up everywhere, discussing the ever-growing list of businesses leaving North Carolina and decrying the other troublesome aspects of the bill, including the provisions against North Carolina cities raising their minimum wages. Gov. McCrory's face graced the front pages of The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal and The Washington Post websites multiple times — most recently after the state sued the U.S. Justice Department for demanding the state overturn the allegedly unconstitutional law.
These supposedly-humorous responses do little more than convince the rest of the country that North Carolina is backwards.
As infuriating as it may be to watch from within the state, the media backlash against North Carolina makes sense — what's worse, however, are the posts made by my friends around the country that paint North Carolina in an entirely negative light. I and countless other activists throughout the state are doing our parts to protest the "bathroom bill" and hopefully overturn this horrific affront to human rights — so why are so many of my friends in New York, LA and other areas deemed "more civilized" treating the state as a monolith?
As a progressive North Carolinian who's worked in national, state and local politics, I have an incredibly complicated relationship with those who govern me. As a Charlottean, I've lived under the rule of McCrory (a former mayor of Charlotte) for the majority of my life. I marched in my college town's SlutWalk in 2011, organized for abortion rights in Asheville with a local chapter of Women Organized to Resist and Defend (WORD) when all but one of the state's clinics were temporarily closed, and coordinated volunteers for the messy and expensive State Senatorial race in 2014 that saw my candidate's husband compared to Frank Underwood in an attack ad.
From articles claiming that celebrities are now avoiding North Carolina en masse to a billboard on a small highway between the North and South Carolina borders satirically reminding viewers to "set your clocks back 100 years", shared thousands of times on social media, these supposedly-humorous responses do little more than convince the rest of the country that North Carolina is backwards. As Chris Brook, a legal adviser for the American Civil Liberties Union in Raleigh said in an interview about HB2 in The Guardian , "the governor’s actions as well as the legislature fly in the face not only of the spirit of North Carolina but many of the things that have made us great as a state over the years."
As the rest of the country throws my whole state under the bus for the bigotry of our NC's elected officials, activists on the ground here are doing everything they can to overturn this appalling new law. They're penning editorials about the harm the so-called "transgender bathroom bill" does to all citizens, organizing fundraisers to oppose HB2 and, of course, taking to the streets in defense of transgender and worker's rights. Charities are teaming up with artists to fight the bill — most recently, Animal Collective joined the fight against HB2 with the release of two live albums that will benefit Progress NC. Equality NC, an organization on the forefront of LGBTQ rights in North Carolina, teamed up with the Human Rights Campaign in a statement against Gov. McCrory's defense of HB2, and Southerners on New Ground (SONG), a group many of my friends are affiliated with, saw its organizer, Serena Sebring, on MSNBC.
Clearly, we are not sitting on our hands.
I'm fully aware of North Carolina's political climate, and find that the coverage of HB2 completely misses the point. It's short-sighted and dangerous to equate an entire population with the actions of their government, and completely overlooks the efforts of the countless activists working tirelessly to organize and protest against this egregious affront to the rights of our citizens. Let's not criticize North Carolina's people in favor of news stories.
Images: Noor Al-Sibai (2)