Did you know that one of the biggest issues in American politics today is not terrorism, not climate change, not the economy, but... whether transgender people should be allowed to go to the bathroom that matches their gender identity?
Yes, it is true. North Carolina passed HB2, which requires transgender people to use the bathroom that corresponds to the gender of their birth certificate. Fear of transgender women (born male) entering women's bathrooms has spurred legislation in South Carolina, Georgia (vetoed by the governor), Mississippi, Minnesota and other states.
The issue has now entered the Presidential race. Ted Cruz warns that women and young girls will be in danger if men who consider themselves female are allowed to use the women's bathroom. Donald Trump says we can't waste money building new bathrooms for transgender people, and the decision should be left to the states.
What's behind all this nonsense? I am old enough to remember a similar fear back in the 1950s. At that time, southern politicians warned that racial desegregation would put white women at risk. If white women, idealized as symbols of purity (even when reality suggested the contrary), came into contact with black men, they warned, rapes would surely follow. Behind much of the resistance to desegregation was sexual panic.
Southern politicians used race-baiting skillfully to divert attention from their corruption and their failure to produce any social or economic gains for the people who elected them. Picking on powerless, disenfranchised blacks kept many a southern politician in power.
The game now is to pick on the last remaining minority that is small in number, mostly hidden, and politically isolated. Who cares about the tiny number of people who are transgender?
It turns out that America's major corporations care. Many, perhaps all of them, have gay employees, and they let Governor Pat McCrory of North Carolina know that HB2, the "bathroom bill," was offensive to them. PayPal canceled a plan to expand its operations in North Carolina, costing the state 400 good jobs. Deutsche Bank canceled its expansion plans. An Internet porn site announced it was cutting off service to its many North Carolina customers. Ouch! Other corporations, entertainment companies, and sports organizations, including the National Basketball Association, are mulling similar actions.
The bathroom bill is especially stupid for several reasons. For one, transgender people have been using public restrooms for years, with no one aware of it and no complaints. For another, the law is unenforceable. Who will monitor whether those who enter women's bathrooms have the "right" genitals?
Some North Carolina politicians have worried that women might emerge from the shower wearing only a towel, unaware that the woman in the room was born male. But where are the public bathrooms that have showers? When women go to the bathroom in an airport, a restaurant, or a hotel, the bathroom has stalls with locks. Each one is completely private.
A week ago, I was in Raleigh, North Carolina. There were gender-neutral bathrooms (called "family bathrooms") in the Marriott Hotel, the Raleigh Convention Center, and the airport.
Governor McCrory's wife has used bathrooms for years with transgender women. North Carolina faces a choice: it can hire bathroom guards to inspect genitalia in every public bathroom (thus creating a jobs program to make up for all the jobs lost as national companies abandon the state) or repeal HB2.
North Carolina may not get to make that choice. A federal appeals court just ruled that a transgender boy in Virginia could use the boy's bathroom and that efforts to compel him to go to the girls' bathroom violate federal anti-discrimination law. In other words, the courts will throw out HB2. North Carolina's Tea Party government sacrificed all those jobs and made the state a laughing stock for nothing.