The religious crazies’ latest ‘hatewave’

By Bill Press

North Carolina has a lot of Bruce Springsteen fans. A lot of disappointed Springsteen fans, but proud nonetheless that their musical hero canceled a sold-out concert last Sunday in Greensboro rather than pump revenue into a state that is practicing out-and-out discrimination against LGBT Americans. Ringo Starr has dropped a concert scheduled for June 18 in Raleigh for the same reason.

Yes, the religious zealots are at it again, masquerading their hatred in the name of religion, just like other generations used the Bible to justify slavery. This time they’re lining up against gays and lesbians, not blacks. They were wrong then, and they’re wrong now.

It all started when the city of Charlotte joined hundreds of cities across the nation in enacting a city ordinance prohibiting businesses from refusing to offer services to customers, just because they happened to be gay. Homophobes in the state legislature, appalled at any sign of tolerance toward gays in the Tarheel State, rushed into action. Within hours, with no public hearing, they rushed through House Bill 2, which Gov. Pat McCrory signed into law the same night.

HB 2 bans all cities in North Carolina from enacting their own anti-discrimination measures. They must follow statewide standards, instead, which provide no protection for LGBT residents. That’s right. You can still be fired from your job in North Carolina, just because you’re gay. And, of course, this is the legislative product of hypocritical conservatives who preach local control – until they don’t like what local governments decide.

And if you make the mistake of traveling to North Carolina, be careful what bathroom you use, too. In a direct slap at transgender persons, HB 2 also requires that people may only use the public restroom of the sex marked on their birth certificate, based on the fear that transgendered men will suddenly be rushing into women’s restrooms.

This is not only discriminatory, it’s also absurd, for several reasons. One, there’s no need for it. There’s never been a reported case of a transgendered person flashing his or her private parts in a public restroom. Two, it’s totally unenforceable, unless you assign a police officer to stand outside the door of every restroom, checking ID. And, seriously, how many people carry their birth certificate around with them all the time? But even then it’s a joke, because most states permit transgendered men or women to change both their name and sex on their birth certificate, reflecting their entirely new identity. Just ask Caitlyn Jenner.

Unfortunately, this “hatewave” is not limited to North Carolina. A similar, and even broader, bill, HB 1523, was signed into law by Phil Bryant, the governor of Mississippi. Other so-called “religious freedom” bills are pending in Missouri, South Carolina, Indiana, Kentucky and West Virginia.

There’s no doubt that such laws will eventually be struck down by the courts. This is, after all, the United States of America, where the Constitution is still our guiding document. So what if some religious crazies believe that the Gospels, which they’ve obviously never read, require them to deny equal rights to gay Americans? They’re not only dead wrong – Jesus never says anything in the New Testament about homosexuality, but he does teach us to love and respect everybody, even those we may disagree with – they can’t use their perverted reading of the Bible to trump the Constitution and practice discrimination against anybody for any reason.

Indeed, the Rev. William Barber, head of North Carolina’s NAACP and leader of the “Moral Monday” movement, has warned state leaders he will lead sit-in protests in the state capitol unless legislators rescind HB 2 before April 21. “HB 2 is the politics of Jesse Helms revisited,” says Barber. “It’s not about bathrooms. It’s about oppression.”

But in the end, it may be business leaders, not religious leaders, who save the day. Threats from Coca-Cola and other companies to abandon Georgia convinced that state’s governor, Nathan Deal, to veto his state’s version of the bathroom bill. Now, more than 100 companies in North Carolina, including Google, Starbucks, Citibank, Hilton, Paypal and Wells-Fargo, have petitioned McCrory to rescind HB 2, or else they may leave the state or cancel plans to expand there. Their message is very sound and very simple: Discrimination is not only unconstitutional. It’s not only immoral. It’s bad for business.

Amen to that.

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