Saturday, April 9, 2016

Five Theses on North Carolina's HB2

            1. LQBTQ & LABOR: HB 2 may be the most objectively radicalizing thing the North Carolina legislature has done.  By explicitly tying together anti-labor provisions forbidding local governments to set minimum wages or working conditions, it strikes at the Fight for Fifteen movement and other living wage campaigns in the same gesture as its attack on LGBTQ people.  The commonality of the many groups and agendas at North Carolina’s progressive Moral Mondays rallies – from the NAACP to the states’ scant unions to queer folk to immigrants and environmentalists – has always struck me as moving but also somewhat thin and aspirational.  With this law, the NC Legislature explicitly names the progressive movements around both labor and sexuality as a common enemy, which is to say, as objective allies.

            2. UNCONSTITUTIONAL: HB 2 is very probably unconstitutional by plain-vanilla doctrinal analysis.  Supreme Court decisions in 1996, 2003, 2013, and 2015 have established a principle that laws aimed at picking out and burdening a particular identity group – especially sexual minorities – are invalid, basically because dislike is not a legitimate motive for lawmaking.  These are the most humane and admirable opinions the Court has issued in the last two decades.

            3. SPELLINGS & UNC: Because the law is probably unconstitutional, and because its unconstitutionality is rooted in its picking out – and picking on – a group of North Carolinians that includes many students – it would have been appropriate and admirable for Margaret Spellings, the head of the UNC system, to direct her campuses to disregard it.  The decision would have exercised the schools’ responsibilities as champions and in loco parentis of their students and as bastions of independent thought about questions of public principle.

            4.  FEAR AND DISGUST: HB 2 shows that the oldest hateful motive – sexual fear – is still very much in play.  The bid to suggest that “women and children” need to be “safe” in bathrooms picks up directly on demagogic warnings about molestation (gay teachers and scoutmasters), rape by black men, and interracial marriage.  (In “Birth of a Nation,” the 1915 cinematic valentine to the Ku Klux Klan, one of the radicals holds up a sign reading “Equal Marriage.”)  Bigotry mingles disgust and fear, and these images of intimate assault seem to be the trigger.  It’s awful, but let’s hope it’s also a sign that the resistance is driven back to its dregs.

            5. BOYCOTTS AND BANKS: The boycotts are great, and they show that, while LQBTQ people are distinctively vulnerable in a bunch of very important ways, they also have a special level of political support right now.  (Of course these two are linked: the acute vulnerability makes the call to boycott stronger.)  As far as possible, it’s important to take the corporate boycotts, in particular, as merely tactical alliances.  Paypal and the big banks would not be boycotting over the attack on Fight for Fifteen, and they won’t be here – or they’ll on the other side – for many progressive issues.  So welcome them, but know that they’re in it partly for the moral and political credibility, and give them back what they’ve earned from you and no more.

            Forward together.  Let this be one of the last steps back.

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