Meeting for a one-day emergency session last week, North Carolina’s General Assembly passed HB2, which has been widely criticized as the nation’s worst anti-LGBT bill. In supposed defense of the general welfare, conservative lawmakers moved to stop a Charlotte ordinance that would have allowed transgender citizens to use public restrooms of the gender with which they identify. But their call to “protect our women and children” echoes language of the white supremacy campaign that overthrew local governments in this state 120 years ago. Both then and now, the call to defend families against imagined predators is a crude power grab.
In 1898, when black Republicans and white Populists formed a Fusion Party in North Carolina to challenge the Democratic power structure, white supremacists published propaganda about black men who, emboldened by their political power, were ravishing white women. Stories in local papers were always about an attack in another part of the state, but the message was clear: unless white men rose up to defend their families, something terrible could happen in their town.
Tammy Covil, a Republican candidate for a House seat in NC’s General Assembly, sent out a campaign flyer that said, “Liberals in our state voted to potentially allow sexual predators access to women’s bathrooms!” The picture on the flyer showed a young white woman entering a restroom where a young black man in a hoodie was lurking in the corner. “We must stop this liberal movement that puts the innocent at risk and forsakes our Family Values, ” the flyer concluded. Once again, the message was clear: the good white people of North Carolina must rise up and take control.
In the quick and heated discussion about HB2, this lurking racism was missed, even by some African-American legislators who voted for the bill. A closer look reveals the more sinister intent of this “emergency” session. While Section 1 of the bill is an attack on equal protection—not just for transgender people, but for all sexual minorities—the “Wage and Hour Act” of Section 2 has nothing to do with LGBTQ issues. Citing the “police power of the State, ” lawmakers asserted their authority to override local efforts to raise the minimum wage and protect the civil rights of local residents. In a sweeping power grab, extremist Republicans violated their own political philosophy to exert control over municipalities where the electorate is more diverse. Exploiting public fear and ignorance, they persuaded some Democrats to vote with them. The bill was signed by Governor McCrory before anyone outside the legislature had time to review it.
Tipping their hand in this extreme overreach, North Carolina’s General Assembly confirmed this week what our Forward Together Moral Movement has argued for the past ten years; namely, that white elites who have controlled this state are afraid of the fusion coalition that has united around issues of economic empowerment, public education, access to health care, expansion of voting rights, and equal protection under the law. A federal court recently ruled that their race-based gerrymandering of voting districts was unconstitutional, forcing them to redraw Congressional districts for this year’s election. They have used their power to remake North Carolina’s government, suppress the vote, and illegally arrest over 1050 citizens who raised a moral dissent. But they are worried even that is not enough. With HB2, they have resorted to the race-baiting of 120 years ago.
Still, we have a saying down here in the South. “A dying mule kicks the hardest.” If today’s extremists are willing to stoop this low, they must be desperate. They know their days are numbered as they watch white male voters become one among many minorities in the Old North State, while those who have been divided by the Southern strategy continue to stand together. As they desperately work to sow the seeds of fear, we stand with our LGBTQ sisters and brothers, our friends in the Fight for 15, our undocumented neighbors, and the movement for black lives to say, “We are North Carolina. We are the future. We aren’t going anywhere. And you have nothing to fear.”