Commentary: I fell for HB2. Let's make sure others don't fall for Mark Robinson's hate speech
By Nathan Click
When Mark Robinson, North Carolina’s lieutenant governor, called homosexuality and transgenderism “filth,” I, as a candidate for Congress, called his language “abhorrent.” Robinson then labeled straight couples as “superior.” His words are a shameful attack on the LGBTQ+ community, but they’re also an intentional distraction from issues urgent to improving our lives today. They even threaten to divide our democracy. Unfortunately, I know personally how powerful false rhetoric can be. Five years ago, I heard it and fell for it. My story can be a lesson for everyone.
In the spring of 2016, I was preoccupied with trying to make it in life. I was living in a small apartment with my wife and four children and starting a new business at the kitchen table. I originally heard about HB2 in the context of preventing men from using women’s restrooms and locker rooms. One day I saw a digital petition to sign in support of HB2. Because of the original framing and context, I signed my name and my business in support of North Carolina’s so-called “Bathroom Law,” despite public statements by other organizations. This was a mistake.
At that point in my life, I had friends and colleagues in the LGBTQ+ community. I served with them in the U.S. Air Force. I was glad when the federal government repealed “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell,” allowing military members to openly serve. I thought it was wrong that people serving their country had to hide part of themselves in the proverbial closet. But the bathroom debate in 2016 caught me by surprise. I also didn’t fully understand what the impact of HB2 would be.
Later I learned more about HB2’s legal implications. One provision of HB2 prohibited anyone from suing in state court for discrimination - any kind of discrimination. This provision clearly targeted people of color, as well as the LGBTQ+ community, and all other minority groups. Current attacks on the LGBTQ+ community will have a similar impact. True equality will come only when a broad coalition consistently demands it. Leaders at every level should demand that no one is discriminated against and that everyone feels safe, valued, and protected under the law regardless of race, religion, class, sex, gender identity, or sexual orientation.
The HB2 firestorm was only five years ago, and, thankfully, much has changed. HB2 has been rightfully repealed. North Carolina municipalities can once again pass local non-discrimination ordinances. At least a dozen local cities, counties and towns already have. More people have come to understand and accept LGBTQ+ rights and the need for equality and protection from discrimination.
There has been progress, but there is more work to do. Here are a few of many initiatives that Congress must pass:
The Equality Act, compliant with the first and fourteenth amendments, should be made law so that LGBTQ+ people are protected across the nation under existing civil rights laws.
Transgender people should be able to serve openly in the U.S. military. More than simply a Biden administration policy, this should become federal law.
Congress should pass the Safe Schools Improvement Act to mandate that public schools receiving federal funds must also adopt anti- bullying and harassment policies that explicitly name protections for LGBTQ+, and specifically transgender youth.
Under the last presidential administration our nation became more divided than anyone alive remembers. We know the playbook of authoritarian politicians, like Donald Trump and our own Lieutenant Governor Mark Robinson. They try to divide and distract us and dismantle our rights, freedom, dignity, and democracy. They raise fears of critical race theory in our public schools and accuse teachers of political indoctrination with no real evidence of either. They attack the LGBTQ+ community as European fascists did in the last century.
With democracy at an inflection point, our reaction to these culture wars is critical. Even with HB2 behind us, Mark Robinson shows there will always be some politicians who try to draw voters into debates meant only to distract and divide us. We must call out those who use false rhetoric to mischaracterize and stoke irrational fear. If unanswered, these attacks only enable authoritarians to gain power and take away our Constitutional rights. Leaders must show moral authority to push back against forces attacking our democracy. Sometimes this requires admitting and learning from mistakes. HB2 was a bad law meant to divide us. It’s repeal was a victory, but there is more work to do. We must keep learning and pushing for equality. Our democracy depends on it.