Editorials

Commissioner Bill James fills tweet with transgender slurs

The Observer editorial board

Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools is putting on hold a policy on transgender students.
Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools is putting on hold a policy on transgender students. Observer file photo

Today, we’re going to do exactly what Mecklenburg commissioner Bill James wants us to do.

We’re going to say he should be ashamed.

Yes, we know this is a bit of a pointless exercise. In James’ conservative south Mecklenburg district, getting called out by the area newspaper is not such an awful thing. In fact, it’s a formula that’s worked well for him – say something offensive, smile at the scorn that follows, then get re-elected, comfortably.

Because of that, we mostly ignore Bill being Bill. We’d guess that his fellow commissioners also have decided that speaking up isn’t worth it.

But this time, they should. Here’s why:

On Thursday, James tweeted in response to reports that Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools hit the pause button on a policy that would allow transgender students to choose the school bathrooms and locker rooms with which they identify. The decision was a response to the U.S. Supreme Court putting on hold an appeals court ruling that allowed a Virginia school district to adopt a similar policy.

James thought this was reason to cheer, which is debatable. His language was not.

@CharMeckSchools puts tranny bathroom policy on hold – requires boys in drag to men’s room” he tweeted.

That’s shameful. The tweet demeans transgender individuals with a crude caricature – “boys in drag.” It also uses a term – “tranny” – that’s a slur to the LGBT community when used by an outsider. (James knows that, by the way. He’s used the word in the past, then posted links to an article that discusses why it’s offensive to many.)

This is pretty standard stuff for James. He has a history of not settling for declaring something morally objectionable, but proudly going a step or five further with slurs and offensive stereotypes (“gays as predators” was a past favorite).

All of which is his right, of course. We have no issues with disagreement, and while we feel strongly that the CMS bathroom and locker room policy offered all students safe and private choices, we understand that fair-minded people have genuine uncertainties about it.

But incendiary language – especially from an elected official – contributes to the discriminatory and sometimes dangerous landscape that the transgender community faces each day. That may be especially true in this city and state, which is at the center of a debate over sexual identity.

There’s also this: While it’s tempting to shrug off the offensive among us, we’ve been shown again and again in this presidential election that the racist, bigoted fringe might be a little bigger and certainly bolder than many of us thought. Our best response is not to ignore it, but to expose it, parade it and say why it’s not OK.

It’s one of the oldest tenets of a progressive society that in the marketplace of ideas, the truth will emerge. So let’s give the truth a nudge. Mecklenburg commissioners should condemn Bill James’ remarks at their next public opportunity. It may be exactly what he wants. But it’s precisely what this community – and its most vulnerable – deserve.

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