Fash­ion-back­ward in North Carolina

Cecil Whig - - OPINION - Kath­leen Parker

— It’s been a long while since South Carolina could look down upon its neigh­bor to the North.

Thanks to North Carolina’s anti-LGBT leg­is­la­tion (HB2), also re­ferred to as the “bath­room bill,” the state ef­fec­tively has be­gun re­defin­ing it­self from its long-pop­u­lar char­ac­ter­i­za­tion as a “val­ley of hu­mil­ity be­tween two moun­tains of con­ceit” (South Carolina and Vir­ginia).

The new law, which lu­di­crously re­quires trans­gen­der peo­ple to use the re­stroom con­sis­tent with the sex on their birth cer­tifi­cates, has lib­er­ated South Carolina from its per­sis­tent place as the brunt of late-night jokes.

EAS­TON, MD.

Re­mark­ing on the law, South Carolina Gov. Nikki Ha­ley said her state doesn’t have “that prob­lem.” Brava.

The law in ques­tion was hur­riedly passed last month and signed by North Carolina Gov. Pat McCrory in re­sponse to what one state of­fi­cial called a re­stroom freefor-all, re­fer­ring to sud­den hys­te­ria over the pos­si­bil­ity of trans­gen­der in­di­vid­u­als us­ing the “wrong” re­stroom. How would any­one know? Will of­fi­cials now post mon­i­tors at pub­lic re­strooms to check birth cer­tifi­cates and hu­man blad­der-evac­u­a­tion por­tals?

This would be ri­otously funny if it weren’t so patently dis­crim­i­na­tory.

Many bad deeds go un­pun­ished, but not this one. The eco­nomic fall­out from the law al­ready is be­ing felt and the price of not do­ing busi­ness is about to go up. Bruce Spring­steen re­cently can­celed a con­cert in Greens­boro and Deutsche Bank has frozen a planned 250-job ex­pan­sion in the state. But the real show­down will be this week­end when not nearly as many buy­ers and de­sign­ers as usual will at­tend the bian­nual High Point fur­ni­ture mar­ket — the largest in the na­tion and the state’s big­gest eco­nomic event.

A re­cent study by Duke Univer­sity placed the an­nual eco­nomic im­pact of the High Point mar­ket at $5.38 bil­lion. The fur­nish­ings in­dus­try also gen­er­ates more than 600,000 vis­i­tor days to the state each year and ac­counts for 37,000 jobs.

If there were a Dar­win Award for states, North Carolina would win hands-down. Al­ready the High Point Mar­ket Au­thor­ity re­ports that hun­dreds or thou­sands of the 75,000 re­tail­ers and de­sign­ers who an­nu­ally at­tend the mar­ket won’t be vis­it­ing this year be­cause of HB2, which, come to think of it, sounds ap­pro­pri­ately like a dis­ease.

Many of those who plan to at­tend have ex­pressed deep reser­va­tions amid likely plans to go to the rel­a­tively new Las Ve­gas fur­ni­ture mar­ket next go-round. Among th­ese is Don Woot­ers, in­te­rior de­signer and co-owner of Eas­ton’s Dwelling and De­sign, who told me he feels guilt about go­ing to North Carolina.

“I feel like a traitor go­ing to High Point, putting cap­i­tal­ism be­fore hu­man rights,” he said. “I don’t feel good about that and I know it’s wrong.”

Woot­ers isn’t only baf­fled by the big­otry of the leg­is­la­tion but also by what­ever gen­er­ates the fear be­hind it.

“Why do peo­ple feel they have to be afraid? It’s a big sign of how un­e­d­u­cated Amer­ica is.”

An­other lo­cal de­signer, Jamie Merida, owner of Boun­ti­ful, told me he de­cided to go if only to make his case to ven­dors that they have six months to straighten out this mess or he, too, will be off to Las Ve­gas next time.

Although North Carolina has been noted in re­cent years for its in­creas­ingly hard-right pol­i­tics, it is still shocking that a state that boasts sev­eral of the na­tion’s top col­leges and uni­ver­si­ties and is home to the famed Re­search Tri­an­gle, could cod­ify what is so plainly a dis­crim­i­na­tory law. In com­ments Tues­day, McCrory, feel­ing the pres­sure, soft­ened his de­fense of the law but stopped short of op­pos­ing the pro­vi­sion on bath­room use by trans­sex­ual peo­ple.

As in all other times when big­otry raises its hideous head, bet­ter an­gels will pre­vail. Ei­ther the courts will over­turn the law or the state will come to its senses, if only for eco­nomic rea­sons.

As to that val­ley of hu­mil­ity? In 1900, when Mary Oates Spratt Van Land­ing­ham, a cul­tural leader and author, first con­jured the im­age in a speech, she was be­moan­ing her state’s then-lesser “na­tive lit­er­a­ture.”

“Could it be that be­ing lo­cated be­tween Vir­ginia and South Carolina, our peo­ple for so long have been fur­nished such con­spic­u­ous il­lus­tra­tions of self-ap­pre­ci­a­tion that they have, by con­trast, learned mod­esty and si­lence?” she said. “Where there are moun­tains of con­ceit, there are apt to be val­leys of hu­mil­ity.”

To­day, those moun­tains have good rea­son for self­ap­pre­ci­a­tion by com­par­i­son. And North Carolina has proved it­self a val­ley of ig­no­rance, whose leg­is­la­tors and gov­er­nor could use a mo­ment of si­lence to con­sider their ill-con­ceived con­ceit.

Kath­leen Parker is a syn­di­cated colum­nist. Con­tact her at kath­leen­parker@wash­post. com.

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