Thursday, April 7, 2016

During a public discussion Wednesday at Duke Divinity School, an interdisciplinary panel of Duke University faculty, staff, and students responded with a strong condemnation of the recently passed N.C. House Bill 2 that strips anti-discrimination protections from LGBT citizens.

“What happened was a massive, overpowering overreach by the Legislature in going after the whole notion of discrimination and disempowering any kind of legal action against that,” said panelist Mac McCorkle, associate professor of the practice in the Sanford School of Public Policy. The former political strategist said the Legislature acted in a way that stigmatized the LGBT community and others as the ‘‘other” in what he described as “crackpot” legislation. McCorkle also criticized Gov. Pat McCrory for not vetoing the bill after it was passed in a special session and not subjecting it to the regular legislative process of review by committee, calling the governor’s actions either in bad faith or completely spineless.

The panel discussion, "HB2, Discrimination, and LGBTQ+ Rights," (see video below) featured perspectives not only from the area of public policy but also from theological ethics, law, sexual and gender studies, and trans activism.

Other panelists were: Brett Ray, a second-year Master of Theological Studies student at the Divinity School, author, and trans-activist; Amy Laura Hall, associate professor of Christian Ethics at the Divinity School; India Pierce, program coordinator of the Center for Sexual & Gender Diversity at Duke University; Howie Kallem, director for Title IX compliance at Duke University; and Hunter Buckworth, a first-year Master of Public Policy student at the Sanford School.

The event was sponsored by: Sacred Worth; the Divinity Women’s Center; the Divinity School Program in Gender, Sexuality, Theology, and Ministry; the Office of Black Church Studies; the Office for Institutional Equity; the Sanford School of Public Policy; the Women’s Studies Department; the Duke Women’s Center; and the Center for Gender and Sexual Diversity.

The controversial bill forbids municipal anti-discrimination laws as well as discrimination or wrongful termination suits in state court, and requires any N.C. citizen using public restrooms in the state to use only those restrooms that align with the gender designated on that person's birth certificate.

There is no statistical evidence of violence that exists to warrant this legislation, said Anathea Portier-Young, panel organizer and associate professor of Old Testament at the Divinity School. Citing information from the Transgender Law Center, the Human Rights Campaign and the American Civil Liberties Union, she noted there has not been a single incident confirmed of a transgender person harassing a non-transgender person in a public restroom.

 “Contrary to the rhetoric that has been used to support HB2 in terms of the claims that transgender people using restrooms are likely to be predators trying to get into bathrooms to harass people, the fact is that transgender people are more likely to experience police violence, physical violence from law enforcement, by a factor of seven times more in comparison with the rest of the population,” she said. Transgender women also are more likely to experience sexual violence at 1.8 times greater than the rest of the population, said Portier-Young, who consults with the Divinity Women's Center and the Sacred Worth student organization.

Student Brett Ray, who self-identified as a queer and trans masculine person, shared reactions from himself and other loved ones who use a bathroom multiple times a day that doesn’t align to the sex on their birth certificates.

“It’s terrifying to me that there could be legal repercussions for something so mundane as me having to go the bathroom,” said Ray, adding that the bill also allows discrimination in jobs and housing. “I see HB2 as an unwarranted fear-based attack on queer people that disproportionately affects non-binary and transwomen of color. …. HB2 is not just a bill, not just a law, but it’s my life, my queer loved ones' lives, your life, so I am here as Christian, as a trans masculine person, a colleague, and a friend to say ‘We are not this.’”

Kallem, director of Title IX Compliance, said the new law started out with issue of bathrooms but quickly moved on to other perceived dangers by the Legislature, such as laws requiring a living wage. The legislation prevents cities and other municipalities from adopting living wage ordinances or other regulations that affect hours and benefits of private employers.

He said that it is unclear yet whether HB2 is a violation of the Title IX, the federal law against sex discrimination, based on existing court rulings and also unclear the effect the bill could have on billions of dollars in federal funding.

Professor Hall described the bill as a way to undermine labor rights for many people and as "evil opportunism" by the Legislature. "It takes particular human beings walking around in the world as children of God and names them as a source of anarchy, chaos, and disruption, and uses that language as a wedge to further discrimination and work insecurity during the second Great Depression.”