McCrory joins a dark list of Southern governors

The Observer editorial board

N.C. Gov. Pat McCrory
N.C. Gov. Pat McCrory dfoster@charlotteobserver.com

Near 10 p.m. Wednesday, North Carolina Gov. Pat McCrory signed House Bill 2, a measure that had been introduced to lawmakers less than 12 hours before. The law, on its face, voids a controversial transgender bathroom provision in Charlotte’s newly passed anti-discrimination ordinance. At least that’s what the governor wants to emphasize.

McCrory’s campaign machinery was at the ready for this signing, tweeting the governor’s statement and rationale on HB 2, that this was all about security and privacy in Charlotte’s bathrooms and locker rooms.

But this legislation, and these 12 hours, was about much more than that. It was about a governor who decided his state will sanction discrimination against not only transgender people, but all gay men and lesbians. It was about a governor who thinks it’s acceptable to make it harder for black men and women to sue for employment discrimination.

It was, in the end, about a 21st century governor who joined a short, tragic list of 20th century governors. You know at least some of these names, probably: Wallace, Faubus, Barnett. They were men who fed our worst impulses, men who rallied citizens against citizens, instead of leading their states forward.

This is what Pat McCrory did Wednesday. In just 12 hours. It wasn’t the stand in the schoolhouse door. It was a sprint past the bathroom door and straight into the South’s dark, bigoted past.

The governor and Republicans will surely protest this notion. HB 2 is merely a response to a Charlotte overreach, they’ve insisted. It’s about keeping men in men’s bathrooms and protecting women and children.

That case, flawed as it is, would have at least been arguable had lawmakers crafted a bill that focused on those bathrooms.

Instead, they decided to formally strip the power cities have to oppose any discrimination. They created a new state anti-discrimination law, but they intentionally excluded sexual orientation from the classes that are protected by it. And for good measure, they made sure to codify that North Carolinians can’t be discriminated against based on “biological” sex – a pointed slamming of the door on transgender people.

This, sadly, is the kind of tactic conservative legislatures continue to contemplate even as the country as a whole embraces LGBT rights. Earlier this year, the South Dakota legislature became the first to pass such a bill in HB 1008, which restricted access to school restrooms and locker rooms to students of the same biological sex.

But South Dakota Gov. Dennis Daugaard, a Republican, provided an example of how a governor can hold a hand up to dangerous legislation. He vetoed HB 1008, saying that it removed the ability of local school districts to determine what is best for their students. He also said the legislation “does not address any pressing issue.”

Neither does North Carolina’s new law. But once again, we are a state that is notably choosing discrimination, just as North Carolina did in 2012 when it was the final state to pass an amendment banning same-sex marriage.

This week, as then, North Carolina needed a leader who understood the damage this law might do – most importantly to its vulnerable citizens, but also to the face we present to businesses and workers considering our state.

Instead we got a late-night bill signing Wednesday, and some campaign tweets. We got a state newly stained, and a governor joining a sorrowful list of those who decided not to lead us forward, but to bow to the worst in us.