EASTON, Md. -- 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. 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 free-for-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 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 guilty 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 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 a state which 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 the 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 self-appreciation 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.