The Effects of New Discrimination Laws in Mississippi and North Carolina

A couple of weeks ago, disappointing news arose out of Mississippi and North Carolina: the two states had passed targeted anti-LGBTQ legislations that to deny civil rights and protections to members of the community. In Mississippi, Governor Phil Bryant signed into practice a law that would allow religious institutions throughout the state to decline to serve patrons if it conflicted with their religious views on gender and marriage. Similarly, North Carolina passed a law that, effective immediately, would ban anti-discrimination protections based upon sexual orientation and would require transgender individuals to use bathrooms that match their birth gender in government buildings and public schools. Additionally, the law removed the ability for private sector employees to sue for discrimination for other reasons, including race, religion, national origin, age, sex or handicap.
 
Reaction to the legislation has been swift and harsh. PayPal, the major online payment organization, announced it had scrapped plans to open its global operations center in Charlotte, N.C., eliminating 400 jobs it would have brought to the area. Other major corporations, such as Apple and Facebook, have vowed to halt further investments in North Carolina until the law has been repealed, with Toyota considering doing the same in Mississippi. A few states, including New York, Washington, and Vermont, have decided to ban state-sponsored travel to North Carolina. Additionally, celebrities, such as Bruce Springsteen and Bryan Adams, cancelled events in both states in order to stand in solidarity with the LGBTQ community.
 
This backlash is reflective of a newly formed yet growing division between the business interests of large corporations and social conservatives, who are sacrificing new jobs and opportunities for their constituents in order to pass such legislation. But it also demonstrates just how much discrimination actually exists against the LGBTQ community today. There are very clear measures being taken against the community, sanctioned by lawmakers—the very individuals who have taken oath to serve all citizens.
 
Mara Keisling, the founding executive director of the non-partisan National Center for Transgender Equality, says that she believes the North Carolina governor Pat McCrory is making a strategic political move towards right-wing extremism in order to increase his chances of success in the current gubernatorial election. But, as Keisiling acknowledges, this move completely backfired, harming both the state and governor himself. In the past week, Governor McCrory has walked back a little from his original position, affirming that state employees would still be protected against sexual orientation and gender identity discrimination and asking that the legislature reinstate the right of private sector workers to sue on the basis of non-LGBTQ related discrimination.
 
This type of legislation is nothing new. In fact, Arthur Ashe addressed this issue in his memoir Days of Grace in 1992 discussing the passage of similar legislation in Colorado at the time. Titled Amendment 2, the law prevented the adoption or creation of laws anywhere in the state that would protect homosexuals from acts of discrimination. The group Colorado for Family Values promoted the law, arguing that many Americans and residents of Colorado agreed with the beliefs behind the amendment. Ashe discusses boycotting the state in protest against this amendment, stating that:
 
                     Unquestionably, homosexuals are the object of prejudice and discrimination. They constitute a group                                    threatened by special problems and dangers deriving from prejudice, from which they should be                                            protected by law.
 
Ashe goes on to say that while a boycott will invariably hurt people in the state who disagree with the measure, not acting or protesting the amendment would essentially equate to condoning the actions of those who voted yes on the ballot. The only way to combat such discriminatory legislation is to speak out against laws that detract from the rights of all citizens and engage in protest.
 
Amendment 2 in Colorado was eventually invalidated by the Supreme Court, who argued in the 1996 case Romer v. Evans that it did not satisfy the Equal Protection Clause and lacked “a rational relationship to legitimate state interests.” It remains to be seen whether or not the same will be done about North Carolina and Mississippi, but in the meantime, it seems Ashe would view it as the responsibility of all citizens to voice disagreement with the recent legislation and work to ensure equal rights for all.
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