Georgia and North Carolina Governors take very different approach to discrimination

Bathroom Sign in Athens, Georgia
Bathroom Sign in Athens, Georgia

It’s been a crazy week in anti-LGBT legislation. For a boy from South Carolina, it’s been interesting to see how my neighbors, Georgia and North Carolina, have behaved.

On March 23, 2016, the state of North Carolina passed a law that struck down an ordinance passed by the city council of Charlotte, the state’s largest city. That ordinance would have outlawed discriminating against gay and transgender people and affirmed that transgender people can use restrooms that match their gender identities.

In North Carolina, the legislature convened a special session, and the contents of the bill were not made public until the day it was signed. The LGBT community had very little time to put pressure on the state.

On March 28, 2016, the governor of Georgia vetoed an anti-LGBT bill. The Georgia bill was passed by the House and Senate and was targeted at same sex marriage and free exercise of religion. It contained two basic sections: One referred to as the Pastor Protection clause would have prohibited any requirement for pastors to solemnize or attend same sex weddings. The second part would have prohibited the government from substantially burdening a person’s exercise of religion unless the government could prove that the burden is in furtherance of a compelling governmental interest and was the least restrictive means of furthering the compelling governmental interest. In short, this bill would have made it difficult for local governments to pass anti-discrimination laws and would have given defendants a right to discriminate by claiming “free exercise of religion.”

In Georgia, LGBT groups mobilized businesses and threatened boycotts of the state. In his statement opposing the bill, Governor Nathan Deal (R) vetoed the law but said he wasn’t swayed by the threats. He rejected the need for the Pastor Protection clause, stating, “While most people would agree that government should not force such actions, there has not been a single instance of such taking place in Georgia.” And with respect the free exercise of religion piece, “I do not think we have to discriminate against anyone to protect the faith-based community in Georgia. . . Georgia is a welcoming state filled with warm, friendly and loving people.”

Although they did not have time to do so in advance of the bill, businesses have also come out against the North Carolina law, but Governor Pat McCrory has not backed off from the bill. He released a YouTube video on March 29th justifying his decision in passing the law, insisting that the bill was not about demonizing any group of people. He said that he had to act to protect men, women, and children when they use public restroom, shower, locker room. He said that people have a basic expectation of privacy when using a restroom.

His logic does not make sense to me. He is basically stating that transgender people will attack others in a bathroom. How is that not “demonizing” the transgender community?

But I think that the Charlotte city council, with all the best intent, went about things the wrong way. By just going all-in on bathroom inclusion, they created confusion. Even though I have a completely different view of the transgender community that the NC governor, I recently had an incident where I understood just how confusing the whole bathroom thing can be.

A couple weeks ago, I went to see a play at the local LGBT theatre. I’d had drinks with co-workers at 5pm and cocktails for a half hour with friends before the show. I needed to find the men’s room, but to my surprise, the two bathrooms were labeled “All Gender”. I was befuddled. I needed to go, but I also wanted some direction as to which restroom to use.

Questions raced through my head. What if I walked in on a woman? What if I were using the bathroom, and a woman walked in on me? The three drinks decided I couldn’t wait so I went to the right. That bathroom had two stalls. While I was standing at the toilet, someone came in and used the stall next to me. Was it a man or woman? I have no idea.

When I was coming out of the bathroom I’d used, a guy was coming out of the other bathroom across a hall. I saw a urinal in that bathroom. I had used the former female-gender-designate bathroom. And then I felt guilty of some crime of etiquette.  The other guy had used the former male-gender-designate bathroom. I should have used that one, and I made a note remember which was which.

But a couple weeks later as I listen to all this debate about the expectation of privacy in bathrooms, I realize that it didn’t matter I’d used the restroom I did. I accomplished my business. The person who was beside me in the other stall of the restroom had accomplished his/her business. My privacy wasn’t invaded by the person next to me, and I didn’t invade that person’s privacy. I never found out the gender of the person next to me. Why? Because I didn’t stick my head over the stall to find out.

For me, it was slightly uncomfortable walking into a gender inclusive restroom. For trans people, they are fearful for their safety, maybe even lives.

The day after the NC legislation was adopted, a transgender man (who looked male and even had a fuller beard than I can grow) posted a photo and stated that he would now have to use the women’s room. It seemed funny, but the guy worried that if he did actually use the women’s restroom, the results would be comical. He posted on social media, “I can follow the law and go into the women’s room in a state that’s a Stand Your Ground state with a very liberal open carry law, and if I do that, are women gonna stop and ask me if I’m trans? Or are they just going to shoot me because they think I really am a predator because all they see is some bearded guy walking into the women’s room?”

The Charlotte city council was honorable in its attempt to provide protection to the transgender community, but it should have focused on why all-inclusive bathrooms benefit everyone. The NC governor is worried about kids. What about the daughter shopping at the mall with her father? At what age, does he stop taking her into the men’s room and leave her unattended in the women’s room? What about a handicapped person who needs assistance in the restroom? Or an elderly person with dementia with an opposite sex spouse? Or a child with his opposite sex parent? There are many reasons why all-gender restrooms are a good idea.

Bathrooms have actual walls that provide privacy in the restroom (stalls and urinal dividers). Why do we need to create artificial walls that do nothing but shame people?