By Anthony Mercando
It’s hard to conceive that students and educators are perhaps more afraid today than when Europe was split in two and the constant threat of nuclear annihilation loomed over their heads 40 and 50 years back. Now, we’re more fearful of other Americans than of BMPs filled with angry Russians streaming through the Fulda Gap. This lack of a clear enemy seems to have made the more paranoid members of our society all the more fragile.
To say HB2 is the worst thing to be birthed in North Carolina in the state’s history is perhaps an understatement. It encompasses all the worst aspects of humanity in one neat package. Hell, it’s five pages long. There are Buzzfeed “listicles” with more substance than HB2. It’s a simple compilation: “So-and-so” can’t use the bathroom because we’re afraid of different people. So-and-so can’t sue their employer because it’s more convenient to fire anybody we want. So-and-so can be legally discriminated against. Cities can’t raise minimum wages because they might get some dangerous ideas.
North Carolina is projected to lose $4.7bn (that’s $4,700,000,000) yearly (yearly) for the discriminatory effects of HB2 threatening Title IX funding. Paypal and Liongate have cancelled plans to expand or continue business in North Carolina. The Department of Justice filed a lawsuit against the state, and to signal there’s no such thing as a stupid idea in Raleigh anymore, Governor McCrory has filed a countersuit. The outcome of this whole thing will depend on how much havoc the GOP is willing to unleash on our economy and whether a bunch of old judges understand the concepts of sexual orientation, biological gender, self-determination, and such new age concepts as “Hey, if it’s not in you, mind your own business.”
At any time, HB2 could be amended to remove the troublesome portions, restoring Title IX funding and leaving the devastating parts about localities being powerless, wages being at the behest of men who believe poor people are lazy, and workers being unable to defend themselves with suits against unfair work practices.
It would almost appear that an ALEC-like body decided to allow lawmakers to actually draft legislation in the margins of an already distributed bill and our General Assembly felt proud to protect their comfort zone in the fill-in-the-blank portion of the paperwork.
Rowan-Salisbury County’s Chuck Hughes and others on the board of education decided to allow students in high school mace as a defensive weapon. The reasoning? Trans students might try to go in the bathroom. Obviously that’s the first reason. Hughes didn’t say rapists or criminals or mentally disturbed mathletes or even the much reviled teachers and their dreaded union. Hughes and others on the board of education place trans students doing nothing in particular to anyone at all, as a threat worthy of immediate pepper spraying.
Assaulting trans students is an extra curricular. Fun for the whole family. At pep rallies we watched our teachers attempt to make three-point shots or get hit in the face with pie, but just a few counties over it’s like Occupy Oakland.
When the government treats a demographic as less than equal, it is a tacit agreement that actions taken against that demographic are sanctioned. The thinly veiled intolerance of HB2 being about making it difficult for predators to sneak into bathrooms won’t even hold up to basic ignorance and interpretation. North Carolina, the religious right and conservative establishment played the long game with you.
Mr. Hughes might just genuinely be afraid of trans people. In which case he should resign his position until he finds some nerve. Those who cannot marshall courage and resoluteness in the face of fear cannot be trusted to make decisions. Perhaps he has forgotten that the United States has nothing truly to fear. FDR could not have conceived of the Cold War and the potential for mass extinction that came with the proliferation of nuclear weapons. Not thirty years ago the world simultaneously celebrated and panicked at the crumbling of the USSR. Countless citizens in this country can tell stories of air raid drills, blackout drills, and the quaint concept of escaping vaporization by hiding under a ten-pound wood and steel desk.
Americans today instead fear men with box cutters and homemade bombs, or boys with eyeliner. They fear discomfort. They fear self-analysis. They have that luxury.
It is about comfort. Some people are uncomfortable about the concept of sharing bathrooms with people they don’t like. They’re afraid. It’s the same fear they have of poor people, black people, women, gay people, latinos, asians, socialists, fascists, hippies, intellectuals, sikhs, muslims, arabs, and the whole beautiful human tapestry in general. They’re afraid they’ll have to be uncomfortable while the rest of us are afraid of having our world ravaged, or we’re afraid we’ll be killed by police, or we’re afraid someone will gun us down for using the bathroom, or we’re afraid our voting rights will be taken away from us, or we’re afraid our planet will be converted into a blasted barren hellscape so a few fat rich men can become fatter and richer.
They’re afraid that the better future many of us are working for right now will have no place for them. That our great new world will have no place for the bigots, the exploiters, the idle rich, the obstructionists, the lazy few who revel in their wastefulness while the many have none. They’re afraid one day the black kid bussing their table will no longer be suppressed by systemic racism, that one day they won’t be able to deny services and happiness to another person because they’re in love with someone of the same gender, that they’ll have to deal with a boy dressed in feminine clothing, or that they’ll have to realize nobody cares what they think about someone going through hormone treatment to reflect their gender. They’re afraid of losing their privilege and inherited station.
HB2 was a trojan horse, and we’re all staring at the paint job instead of what’s inside. Raleigh is instead punishing the people of this state by cutting even more funding necessary for them to prosper. They make hay of the impending collapse of the education system and cry like spoiled children when they’re told what the consequences of their actions are. Their righteous indignation is nothing more than bratty wailing, an ever present victim complex that makes them feel entitled to do as they please at the expense of the rest of us. They not stupid, just lazy and selfish. They’ll take whatever capital they can from the destruction of North Carolina’s economy, schools, health systems, infrastructure, and reputation and flutter away on wings made of moneyed interests.
Rowan-Salisbury County’s board of education is a demonstration of the forces that must be swept away if North Carolina is to reach its full potential. The decision by this group of people to so brazenly embrace fear and allow hormonal and emotional teens to add pepper spray into the mix. Maybe, if we’re lucky, Mr. Hughes and his colleagues will at least take pity on the resource officers who will undoubtedly be tasting mace more often.
Anthony Mercando’s work is what happens when a next-generation activist who is also a finely tuned cynic writes about what the government is up to.