The Politics of the Single-minded: Lessons From North Carolina’s ‘Bathroom Bill’

Originally published at The Huffington Post

Years ago, I left the board of Equality N.C. because the group decided to publicly oppose a national antidiscrimination law that would have covered gays and lesbians. The reason given was that the law didn’t cover transsexuals. I thought this was terribly bad politics. Transsexuals already had more employment discrimination protection than gays because of the way in which courts were interpreting “sex” in Title VII cases. Nobody seemed to care much about the legal reality. But more than this, anyone who understands civil rights politics knows that change is most often incremental. Legislative progress, whether it is at the local, state, or national level, rarely accomplishes all of our goals in one fell swoop. Instead, progress is achieved in baby steps, with each victory forming the basis of renewed activism and accomplishment. But instead of supporting protections for gays and lesbians while we could, some folks wanted to oppose a law that had the potential to relieve the suffering of countless gays and lesbians across the country and advance the movement in a way that only national employment antidiscrimination legislation can. I didn’t think it was fair to ask gays and lesbians to sacrifice ourselves in this way. It was a self-defeating single-mindedness that I could not abide.

After years of negotiation over the Charlotte ordinance, I was horrified to see that same single-mindedness rear its head again. And this time we’re all paying the price. Advocates and groups, loosely denominated “gay,” opposed any antidiscrimination ordinance without the controversial bathroom edict. The governor in no uncertain terms warned the Charlotte city council that if it proceeded with a law containing the bathroom-specific language he would call a special legislative session for the purpose of repealing it. Of course, given his history of crafting some of the ugliest, most racist, most misogynist legislation in the country to date, there was every reason to believe he meant it. But the single-minded “gay” groups and their allies pushed it anyway.

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