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Editorial: With overreaching on both sides, start over on HB2

To hear the uproar from some corners, you’d think the city of Charlotte tried to legalize pedophilia. Opponents of the Queen City’s non-discrimination ordinance cannot imagine any legitimate reason for someone to use a public restroom that doesn’t match the gender on his or her birth certificate. They fear that allowing transsexuals to use the bathroom of the gender with which they identify opens the stall door for attacks on women and girls.

North Carolina needs to slow down and study non-discrimination issues more thoroughly.

The awkward phrase,  “the gender with which they identify,” describes a complicated condition which many of us find unimaginable. The vast majority of people never question their gender. But an estimated 700,000 people, or about 0.3 percent of the country’s adults, identify themselves as transgender. They don’t fit within society’s standards of how their birth gender is supposed to look or act. In many cases, they have felt a pull to identify with the other sex virtually since birth. At some point they decide to live as the other sex.

This gray area disturbs traditionalists. Unfamiliar with such inclinations themselves, many well-intentioned people do not understand nor want to deal with individuals whose sexuality challenges society’s norms. It is scary territory.

Responding to that fear, North Carolina lawmakers rushed into a “public facilities” law that wound up reaching far beyond transgender bathroom access. In their haste, lawmakers left gay and transgender rights out of the state’s new non-discrimination law altogether and barred local governments from passing their own laws on the issue. The so-called facilities law bars municipalities from passing their own minimum wage laws, and it introduces restrictions on legal actions available to people who believe they’ve experienced discrimination at work.

This is wrong on several fronts — usurping local control, denying a valid segment of our population equal protection under the law and presenting the law as only a bathroom ordinance.

We live in a time of tremendous change — a sea change in public understanding of LGBT realities and rights. Still, attitudes don’t evolve overnight. Charlotte may have overreached by including in its non-discrimination ordinance an issue the general public has just begun to process — transgender bathroom choices — and is not ready to approve. The stage may be set for later acceptance.

Meanwhile, legislative leaders overreached; they expedited a law that carries the state backwards in perception and reality. Some who voted for HB2 did not realize it went beyond the bathroom, a fact that opens the door to repeal or amendment. Several lawmakers have said they never intended to take away workers’ rights or bring down condemnation on the state from the business world. The only way forward for North Carolina is to repeal this hastily passed law, study the issues more thoroughly and start over.

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