I grew up in North Carolina, and it’s been my experience that most who live here are fair-minded people.
They can have strong opinions and sharp disagreements. But they would not consciously welcome discrimination. Nor would they stand for the mistreatment and abuse of a community of citizens simply because of who they are.
They would, instead, come to their defense.
That is why it is so important to read, and then reflect on, a Charlotte Observer special report titled “Permission to Hate.”
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Across our state, a calloused and cruel minority openly attack residents who are lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and queer (LGBTQ). The mistreatment ranges from hurtful slurs to outright physical assaults.
It needs to stop. And a growing number say a step in the right direction would be the repeal of a notorious new law commonly called House Bill 2 (HB2).
The politicians who passed HB2 want you to believe that it exists to protect women and children. That’s how it came to be called “the bathroom bill.” Among other things, HB2 requires people in government facilities to use restrooms that match the gender on their birth certificates.
By now, you’ve heard the argument that HB2 prevents sexual predators from masquerading as transgender people and prowling in restrooms. Fear is a powerful motivator. But the facts strongly suggest that this scare is not justified.
If you used a public restroom in our nation’s capital over the past decade, it was a restroom frequented by transgender people. Since 2006, Washington, D.C., has allowed people to use facilities consistent with their gender identity. And in 10 years, not one case has been reported of a non-transgender person posing as someone transgender in order to commit a crime.
More frightening is HB2’s true impact, which many people miss. It’s directly tied to what you will read in the Observer’s special report.
House Bill 2 sets a statewide standard for what factors must be present to constitute illegal discrimination in this state: race, religion, color, national origin, age, handicap or biological sex as designated on a person’s birth certificate.
Our legislators pointedly left out sexual orientation and gender identity. Those factors were proposed in an amendment introduced by Rep. Grier Martin, D-Raleigh, on the same night HB2 was put to a vote. It was tabled.
House Bill 2 also nullified ordinances in Charlotte and other N.C. cities that had extended legal protection to their LGBTQ communities.
That leaves no local or state law to discourage open discrimination against the more than 300,000 North Carolinians who identify as LGBTQ. And it’s why critics say North Carolina stands out nationally as a state that has consciously denied these citizens basic human rights.
In June, a team of Observer journalists led by veteran reporter Elizabeth Leland set out to document how others discriminate against members of the LGBTQ community. Law enforcement records were of limited help since the state does not recognize such behavior as a crime. So reporters worked largely through informal channels, county by county, to discover instances of hostility directed at LGBTQ people.
Today’s report is based on more than 60 accounts of discrimination spread over 50 counties. Reporters found victims of the discrimination as young as 5 and as old as 71.
Their individual stories are keyed to a map of the state on CharlotteObserver.com.
At best, our survey identified only a sampling of the hostility that people have faced across the state. We welcome your help in documenting other instances. We will add those accounts as we are able to verify them.
We also plan to hold a public forum in Charlotte. We will invite political and religious leaders to discuss what can be done, both to protect members of the LGBTQ community and to calm fears that triggered HB2. Watch for more details.
We won’t expect everyone who comes to the forum to hold the same point of view. But we believe most will agree that no North Carolinian deserves to be treated in ways you will read about here.
If we are, indeed, a fair-minded people, we won’t stand for it.