It’s been almost four years since North Carolina’s Republican legislative leaders capitulated to global economic pressure and effectively admitted the error of their ways by agreeing to repeal the infamous anti-transgender law known as House Bill 2.
And while the agreement that Senate leader Phil Berger and House Speaker Tim Moore cut with Gov. Roy Cooper at the time was far from complete or satisfactory, there is little doubt that its main impact has been to serve as a repudiation of attacks on transgender people, and an important, if imperfect, step in moving our state into the 21st century on issues of gender and gender identity.
In the end, Berger and Moore may not have publicly embraced LGBTQ equality, but they clearly acknowledged (or, at least acquiesced to) the direction political winds were blowing – in the scientific community, global human rights, and perhaps most importantly, in corporate boardrooms – and the fact that it would be untenable for North Carolina to buck them.
Now, in 2021 it looks like they’re going to get another chance at a do-over.
At issue this time are the new and even broader comprehensive assaults on transgender rights found in Senate Bill 514 and House Bill 358. Unlike the hastily tossed together “bathroom bill” of 2016, these proposals don’t just manufacture controversy out of thin air by advancing preposterous lies about “cross-dressing” male predators lurking in female restrooms. Rather, they undertake a broad and concerted assault on the very existence of transgender people.
As Policy Watch reporter Joe Killian reported last week, House Bill 358 – the badly misnamed “Save Women’s Sports Act” – is literally based on the premise that transgender women are simply men pretending to be women.
Indeed, the bill specifically states that “sex shall be recognized based solely on a person’s reproductive biology and genetics at birth.”
SB 514 would go even further by seeking to:
- ban anyone under the age of 21 from receiving gender-affirming treatment, including reversible hormone therapy,
- impose fines on medical professionals who provide gender-affirming treatment to anyone under the age of 21, and
- require government employees, including teachers, to report children who demonstrate “gender nonconformity” to their parents, and
- protect the discredited practice of “conversion” therapy,
Both bills are part of a transparent national effort by Trump-loyal social conservatives who dominate the Republican Party to find and manufacture issues that will keep the GOP base voting against its own economic interests.
And like the same group’s ongoing and racially charged assault on nonexistent voter fraud, the anti-trans legislation is a cynical solution in search of a problem.
Unfortunately for Republicans, and unlike in 2016 when HB2 forced many Americans to deal with the complexities of gender identity issues for the first time, the environment today is even less hospitable to their efforts.
First, the science is much more commonly understood than it was five years ago. Not only is gender dysphoria widely known and accepted as a serious medical condition and covered by numerous insurance plans, the notion that transgender women athletes will automatically enjoy an inherent and unfair physical advantage in sporting competitions has been widely debunked.
As Killian reported, Dr. Deanna Adkins, a pediatric endocrinologist who helped establish the Duke Child and Adolescent Gender Care at Duke University Hospital in 2015 and one of the state’s most sought-after experts on gender transition, says that “from what I’ve seen in patients I work with, [anti-trans sports legislation] doesn’t make sense.”
A second important factor is to be found in the rapid growth and influence of the LGBTQ equality movement itself. Even during the HB2 saga, advocates at national equality and civil rights groups like the Human Rights Campaign and the ACLU regularly ran circles around defenders of the law when it came to driving media coverage and public opinion. And as last week’s powerful national media event featuring women athletes made clear, this is an advantage that’s only grown more pronounced.
And then there’s the likely stance of corporate America. As journalists Judd Legum and Tesnim Zekeria made clear yesterday in a post for the national news and commentary site, Popular Information, several major North Carolina corporations have now become associated (unintentionally) with Senate Bill 514 because of their campaign contributions to the bill’s sponsors.
And, just as has been the case with Georgia’s new voter suppression laws and the Jan. 6 U.S. Capitol insurrection, it’s hard to believe that this is the kind of relationship that most of them will want to hold on to for very long – especially companies like Duke Energy and Blue Cross Blue Shield of NC who loudly proclaim their commitment to LGBTQ equality.
In short, Berger and Moore unleashed a dangerous and destructive political and economic tiger back in 2016, and that tiger has only grown in size and strength. It’s hard to imagine they really want to take such a risk again in 2021.