Yesterday, North Carolina’s Democratic governor, Roy Cooper, working with Republican State Senate Leader Phil Berger and House Speaker Tim Moore, delivered the repeal of House Bill 2 (HB2)—a move Cooper both campaigned on and included in his priorities for the 2017 legislative session. The repeal was aimed at repairing the state’s reputation with businesses that have boycotted the state in response to HB2. Previously, the NCAA had delivered an ultimatum, stating that if the bill was not repealed by yesterday, it would continue to host championship games elsewhere. Spurred on by this threat, state lawmakers exercised the moral courage that is the bedrock of public service and repealed the economically disastrous and, more importantly, morally odious legislation.
That’s the story Roy Cooper would have liked to tell, anyway.
The truth is that the governor sold out the very communities that had rallied around his candidacy as a firm repudiation of state-sanctioned bigotry; communities that elected him to prove that their great state can and should be better. And he’s not the only one. State lawmakers, including 30 Democrats, voted for a replacement bill that bars state and local entities from adopting policies that would allow transgender people to use the restrooms, showers, and changing facilities of their choice. The “replacement” bill also prohibits local governments from enacting anti-discrimination ordinances until 2020.
As Wake Forest University Professor and Director of the LGBTQ Center Angela Mazaris brilliantly spells out, anything but full repeal of HB2 continues to hurt the LGBTQ Community in North Carolina, and especially the state’s trans community—one of the many targets of the current presidential administration. Since Donald Trump took office, the federal government has willfully shirked its responsibility to protect transgender communities, exemplified by the revocation of federal guidance that instructed schools on how to apply Title IX of the Education Amendments Act to protect the rights of transgender students. Barring local governments from protecting their most vulnerable populations is an extension of the same structural and material violence.
Yes, the political landscape for progressives is rough, and pragmatism may seem like the only path forward. And that is exactly why, now more than ever, we need a commitment to principled leadership. This leadership is rooted in and building power with historically marginalized communities, even as we defend what little ground we have. This leadership elevates and works in tandem with trans-led organizing in every state and community. In this political moment and beyond, the role of elected officials must be to practice that principled leadership in solidarity with resistance movements; to govern, and not just campaign, with moral courage. If the arc of human history must be bent toward justice, elected officials abdicate that responsibility when they continue to trade away true protection and liberation of the most vulnerable among us in exchange for short-term political gains.
Also published on Medium.