Mark Washburn

Washburn: On HB2, enjoy our Southern hostility

In a rally outside of the Charlotte Mecklenburg Government Center over 60 opponents of Charlotte’s expanded nondiscrimination ordinance Friday, March 18, 2016.
In a rally outside of the Charlotte Mecklenburg Government Center over 60 opponents of Charlotte’s expanded nondiscrimination ordinance Friday, March 18, 2016. ogaines@charlotteobserver.com

Opponents to the Charlotte LGBT ordinance said it went too far in mandating that transgender people have their choice of bathrooms.

They’re right.

Lawmakers said the same thing.

They’re right.

People all over the nation said North Carolina’s legislature went way too far, though, in stripping protections statewide for LGBT people when swatting down the Charlotte ordinance.

They’re right.

PayPal, the very kind of industry we want to attract for its tech-savvy brainpower, said it couldn’t see bringing its business to a state that failed to protect from discrimination all members of its workforce.

They’re right.

Big, important businesses and organizations said it was troubling that the state dropped protection for gays.

They’re right.

Other governors have said they don’t want their state employees traveling to such a place.

They’re right.

Everybody’s right. Let’s quit spreading blame. Let’s fix this.

There is no widespread zeal in North Carolina to discriminate against gays or anyone else. Those days are far behind us.

I’m right.

But we have managed to create a perception problem the size of North America. And the longer it lasts, the worse it will be.

We’ve got Bruce Springsteen, the NFL, the NBA, American Airlines and dozens of other high-profile concerns telling us we’ve got a problem. At some point in this intervention, we need to see the light.

Because they’re right.

We can’t have it both ways.

We can’t be this shining New South colossus known for progressive attitudes and a can-do spirit while embracing discriminatory impertinence toward any slice of our population.

That isn’t who we are, and upon sober reflection, that can’t be what we meant to do. We’re not into Apartheid. We’re into the future, and we’re not retreating into the past.

HB2, which was largely a response to many who feared that Charlotte’s ordinance opened the bathroom door to predators, spun out of control when it stripped protections to gay citizens.

It was a symbolic measure meant to address one problem and became a symbolic gesture creating another.

Can we just fix this?

Yes. When the legislature soon gathers in Raleigh it needs to simply reinstate the protection for all North Carolinians. We don’t have to point people to the correct bathroom. This hasn’t been a problem.

That’s the middle course. That was the status quo. That’s the right thing.

We need to start sending that message now from every quadrant of the political spectrum. We need to extinguish this brush fire before we get burned any worse.

We need to acknowledge we were wrong. We need to say we made a mistake.

That happens every now and then – the sun just gets in your eyes.

Sometimes that’s the very point where you see the light.

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