November 18, 2019
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North Carolina’s bigoted example a reminder for Maine

Jill Knight | Raleigh News & Observer (TNS)
Jill Knight | Raleigh News & Observer (TNS)
Duke University student Sydney Roberts shouts during a protest against House Bill 2 on Thursday, March 24, 2016, outside of the governor's mansion on North Blount Street in downtown Raleigh, North Carolina.

Many in the Bangor area last week reacquainted themselves with the story of Nicole Maines, a transgender student from Orono who had to go to court to fight for her right to use the girls’ bathroom at school. Maines was born male but has always identified as female.

Amy Ellis Nutt, a Washington Post science writer and author of “ Becoming Nicole,” the book that chronicles the story of Nicole and her family, had a message everyone needs to hear about transgender people.

“I think what I want people to take away from the book is that these people are no different from you,” Nutt said Thursday night after speaking about her book at the Bangor Public Library. “No different from you, from your family, from your sons and daughters, from your mother, your father, your wife, your husband.”

If only more politicians in North Carolina were receptive to such an obvious message. Nutt’s visit to Bangor came a day after the Tar Heel State took a disheartening step backward, effectively relegating transgender people to some subhuman class.

The North Carolina Legislature held a one-day special session last week specifically to keep the state’s largest city from extending anti-discrimination protections to LGBT people. Republican Gov. Pat McCrory swiftly signed the Legislature’s discriminatory and overreaching measure into law. A New York Times editorial declared the move made North Carolina a “pioneer in bigotry.”

It defies logical explanation why the Legislature and governor felt such a compelling need to meddle in the local affairs of their state’s largest city — and every other local government in North Carolina — and especially when city councilors in Charlotte sought to extend anti-discrimination protections already afforded to people based on race, sex, age and religion.

North Carolina’s Legislature should have followed Charlotte’s example. Instead, it foiled the city’s efforts to ensure equal protections for all, including the ability of transgender people to use the public bathroom consistent with their gender identity. The new North Carolina law also pre-empts similar efforts by every other city and county in the state. And the law specifies that public establishments require that students, employees and patrons use the bathroom consistent with their biological sex, regardless of the gender with which those users identify and by which they live their lives.

To compound the overreach, the North Carolina Legislature and McCrory also thought it prudent to insert themselves into another class of local decisions: The law also prohibits cities and counties from setting local minimum wages, and it bars local provisions that exact particular employment requirements of local government contractors, such as requirements to pay employees more than the state minimum wage or provide them with paid sick leave.

The North Carolina law combines the worst of recent examples of state-level overreach into local affairs. The state follows Tennessee and Arkansas in passing a state law preventing local anti-discrimination ordinances. It follows Alabama, Michigan and Missouri in passing laws to pre-empt local minimum wage and employment condition ordinances.

It’s tempting to observe the situation from afar and celebrate the fact that Maine has already resolved much of the debate taking place right now in North Carolina. But Maine isn’t completely beyond it.

While the Maine Supreme Judicial Court ruled in Nicole Maines’ favor in 2014, settling the issue of transgender students’ access to school bathrooms, Gov. Paul LePage has refused to allow a state agency to move ahead with articulating that right in official state rules. And LePage late last year joined with a number of Republicans from across the country — including McCrory — in urging a federal court to deny the right of a Virginia transgender boy to use the men’s room at school.

On the minimum wage front, LePage last year proposed legislation to keep towns and cities from raising the minimum wage within their borders. Fortunately, that effort failed.

Maine is fortunate to have already extended anti-discrimination protections to people based on sexual orientation and gender identity in 2005. But it’s dangerous, especially with LePage as governor, to think that move settled the debate here in the Pine Tree State.

 



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