By Roger McCredie- The so-called “bathroom bill” recently passed by the North Carolina General Assembly is generating strident calls for action by both supporters and opponents of the measure.
Screenshots (copies of internet conversations) furnished to the Tribune by an outside source show members of a Facebook group apparently seriously discussing the possibility of placing cross-dressing spies in public restrooms. Meanwhile, two prominent Buncombe County republicans, former City Councilman Carl Mumpower and former county GOP Chairman Chad Nesbitt, have posted a $3,000 cash reward for help in finding a way to sue opponents of the law who are bringing economic pressure to bear on the state in hopes of getting it repealed.
The dueling calls to action are the latest local fallout from adoption of the bill, passed by state lawmakers on March 23, which prohibits local governmental bodies from passing laws that would abolish male-only and female-only restrooms on grounds that they discriminate against transgendered people. The term “transgender” encompasses both those who have actually undergone medical procedures to change the sex they were at birth, and those who have come to identify so strongly with their non-birth sex that they adopt the identity, including dress and mindset, of that opposite gender.
The catalyst for the general assembly’s action was the adoption by the city of Charlotte of an ordinance preventing further discrimination, on the basis of sexual orientation, of all public facilities, including restrooms. The March 23 law, referred to as “HB2” for its original bill designation, struck down the Charlotte ordinance and blocks similar action by other cities in the state.
Only two weeks before the bill’s adoption Asheville Mayor Esther Manheimer announced that city council had no plans to enact an ordinance similar to Charlotte’s. To do so was unnecessary, she said; Charlotte was “fixing” their own law by plugging a restroom loophole that could be construed as discriminatory. Asheville, she said, was not in that position.
The mayor’s explanation did not prevent Asheville, often billed as the state’s most progressive city, from splitting into two passionately hostile camps. The LGBT community and many others denounce the measure as institutionalized bigotry and outright oppression; the bill’s supporters say it is designed to insure ordinary decency and protect the innocent, especially women and children, from possible exploitation or even molestation.
From the beginning, HB2, which requires that individuals use restroom facilities associated with their “birth gender,” has been problematic as to how it would be enforced. And that conundrum is apparently behind a proposal on a local facebook page to form a “dirty tricks squad” to call attention to the law’s shortcomings.
The screenshots furnished to the Tribune are taken from the Facebook page “Asheville Politics,” beginning with a comment by a page member named Jane Wallace, who says:
“Ok here’s an idea for an HR2 protest. Ladies, get 2 or 3 friends and dress up in costumes. Preferably masculine ones, preferably with convincing looking beards. Go in a lot of bathrooms. Get challenged. Show your driver’s license. Do it a lot. Don’t make the transgender folks carry this burden. Let’s do it for them. Basically just mess them up. What if we did it all over the state? What do you think would happen?”
“Or guys in dresses headed to the men’s room,” member Brian Lee suggests.
Apparently seriously, Wallace then says, “Ok, so what’s the date? How long would it be [to] get a sizable number of people to do this? To spread the word.
“If we go with cartoon characters, like my husband suggested, it would be satire,” Wallace says. Later she repeats, “It would be satire, you know, like Monty Python.”
Further on, a member named Matthew Ensley observes, “This whole scaring them into trying to enforce the new law in this manner only could make it worse. I’m ALL for creative civil disobedience but this manner kind of feeds the faux fears.”
A member who goes by the screen name of “Billy Detroitt” seconds that. “Sounds like a great idea but these things have a way of backfiring sometimes,” “Detroitt” says.
“Yeah,” says reader Karenna Awtry, “I guess he [Ensley] has a point. But I like where you were going.”
Awtry is the wife of regional Gannett Vice President and former Asheville Citizen-Times publisher Josh Awtry.
Ensley then proposes, “Stand in front of restrooms like you are supposed to be there and ask to see birth certificates before allowing entry.”
To this, member E. Rachel Gilley replies, “Your idea is better. I do not like the idea that masculine presenting people showing up in women’s bathrooms is supposed to be upsetting – this is the opposite of what is helpful.”
“I like Matthew’s idea better too,” Wallace says, having apparently reconsidered her original plan.
There ensues a discussion about when and where to meet to strategize. Then a member named Whit Rylee asks, “See if we can get [“Asheville Politics” administrator and former council candidate] Rich Lee on board?”
To which Wallace replies, “Hey Rich, do you wanna be Elmo, or Santa, or the officer checking ID’s outside the bathrooms?”
The screenshots show no response from Lee at any time during the conversation. Either he did not reply or his comments, if there were any, were not visible to the person who took the screenshots. That would happen, for instance, if Lee himself had “blocked” the other party from seeing his comments, but there is no indication this happened.
No further reports have surfaced of Wallace’s proposal’s being acted upon.
Meanwhile, Mumpower and Nesbitt, who have collaborated in the past to generate community action on specific topics, posted a joint statement saying they had upped their original reward of $2,000 for help in bringing legal action against anti- HB2 activists to $3,000, saying the $1,000 had been contributed by a supporter.
The pair say they are working to combat an “organized effort to exert financial pressure against our elected officials with the explicit agenda of reversing legislation [that] has the taint of extortion, blackmail, intimidation or other form of intentional coercion,” referring to a spate of highly publicized statements from companies, organizations and entertainers [indicate] that they will boycott North Carolina until such time as HB2 is repealed.
Mumpower has stated that such groups and individuals are “attacking the rule of law” and he and Nesbitt are appealing to the public for funds to explore “viable means to bringing civil, criminal, administrative, or other form of legal redress against the parties involved in this act of coercion.”